Monday, April 06, 2009

Here's an interesting item that Molly just received today in her inbox from the Planetary Society. In the past few years the number of planets found orbiting stars other than our Sun has blossomed into a list of hundreds, and yet more are due to be discovered. If you are interested the Planetary Society has set up a Catalog of Exoplanets to keep track of the discoveries- and also to explain more about the science behind them. Here's the announcement.
Catalog of Exoplanets:

Ever since the first exoplanet was discovered in the mid-1990s, we’ve had an explosion of discoveries, revealing hundreds of strange worlds orbiting faraway stars. Slowly but surely, as detection techniques improve, scientists are closing in on the exoplanet we are all waiting for: a world like our own, a distant "Earth" orbiting an alien star.

In order to share with you all that has been found to date, The Planetary Society -- with support from our members -- created the Catalog of Exoplanets. Here you will find a regularly updated database of all known exoplanets.

Our catalog is designed with resources for every level of study whether you are a professional, amateur, teacher, student, or simply want to find out what the buzz is about the latest exoplanet discovery.

Find essential information about each exoplanet, such as...
**What is the planet's location and home star?
**What is its mass, and how does it compare to planets in our own solar system?
**How long does it take it to complete each orbit ?
**How was it detected?
**When was it discovered?
**How many other known planets are orbiting its star?

Each planet can be seen in a dynamic animation showing the planet in its orbit around its star as well as the orbits of any other known planets in the system. For example, one animation below shows a sample exoplanet system (GJ 876) and one shows the outer planets in our solar system (Jupiter through Neptune; the inner planets would be too hard to see on the same scale).
Explanation of Animations

And there is more, find out about...
**The different methods used to detect exoplanets.
**Advantages and shortcomings of each detection method.
**Notable exoplanets, those that stand out from the crowd.

The idea for this catalog started when The Planetary Society funded the planet hunting group of Geoff Marcy at UC Berkeley, Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution, Steven Vogt and Debra Fischer of San Francisco State University to analyze years of data and publish updated parameters such as planetary mass for a whole host of exoplanets. Their results were published by Butler et al. in the Astrophysical Journal, targeted at professional astronomers, and covering a subset of exoplanets. In creating our online catalog, The Planetary Society includes all known exoplanets in a manner intended to be friendly to students and the general public, as well as amateur and professional astronomers.
Enjoy learning about the search for distant worlds!

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