Monday, November 17, 2008

Planet seen


It may look dumb, it's just the period, but give me a break. Look carefully. Don't be in too big of a hurry.

Astronomers are excited that they've seen a few dots they think are planets orbiting other stars. It's a historic step.

Up until now, they have inferred that there are planets around stars, but they haven't seen the actual dot yet. Now they've seen the dot.

In the past, there were some ways to infer evidence of a planet, for instance the light from a star dimming at regular intervals as an orbiting planet passes between the star and Earth partially blocking the light.

That's the "you make a better door than window" scenario.

I've heard that phrase when someone's blocking the view. A planet can dim light from a star when it's between it's star and observers on Earth.

There are other ways to infer that planets are out there as well.

The so called "stellar gravitational wobble" technique, for instance.

I could try and get more technical, but I don't want to loose you. There's plenty of good explanations in Astronomy Magazine and other on-line publications.

Still, it's worth noting that a few dots have now been seen which they think are imaging planets directly.

That's a historic step.

One dot seen by the Hubble Space Telescope near one of the stars it sees. Another set of dots (more than one planet) seen around another star which is viewed by the giant Keck Telescopes in Hawaii.

Just when we might think our world is going to hell in a hand basket, our ingenuity is still capable of interesting discoveries.

In the future, even more awaits to be learned if we don't rip our own planet apart first in war. Let's use our minds for discovery rather than conflict. Our minds are capable of great questions.

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