Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Exoplanets: Too interesting, though too far away

It's been a while since my last post. Been busy like everybody else. But that does not mean I will stop posting. 

During the past decade we have been hearing news about new planets being discovered. And these are newly discovered planets OUTSIDE of our own Solar System.  

Simply put, an Exoplanet or Extrasolar planet is any planet outside the solar system. Wikipedia states that " A total of 871 such planets (in 682 planetary systems, including 130 multiple planetary systems) have been identified as of April 20, 2013". Since the first discovery of the first exoplanet in 1992 by Radio astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan (Polish) and Dale Frail (Canadian), we as humans, specially the ones aware of this, has been reflecting about the possibility of alien life, our place in the cosmos, and where's God in this picture. It gives us this wonderful insight in the world of Astronomy and would make any amateur science supporter to pursue such a career path. 

The most famous extrasolar planet is probably Gliese 581c, because of its relative proximity (20 light years), Earth-like mass, and its location within the "habitable zone" of its star, a zone which could theoretically sustain life.

Gliese 581 c or Gl 581 c is a planet orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581. Second planet discovered in the system and third in order from the star. It has a mass at least 5.6 times that of the Earth. Known as a super-Earth (a planet of 1 to 10 Earth masses). It was the smallest known extrasolar planet around a main-sequence star. On April 21, 2009, another planet orbiting Gliese 581, Gliese 581 e, was announced with an approximate mass of 1.9 Earth masses.

Here are some facts about Exoplanets:

Most Massive: HD 43848

Discovered in 2008, this exoplanet has a mass that is 25 times the mass of Jupiter. Orbiting around a star that is a just a bit smaller than our sun, HD43848 is nearly 8000 times as massive as Earth.

The Smallest: CoRoT-7b

This planet is less than twice the size of Earth, and its density is similar to Earth's. Discovered in February 2009, CoRoT-7b takes 20.4 hours to orbit a star that is slightly smaller, cooler and younger than our sun.

The Most likely to Have Life: Gl 581 e

Of the four planets that orbit the star called Gliese 581, two are near the edges of what astronomers called the habitable zone, where liquid water may exist. One of these planets is near the cool edge of the zone, but Gl 581 e, spotted in April 2009, is in a warmer spot.

The Biggest Radius: CT Cha b

This gas giant has a radius that is more than twice as large as our largest planet, Jupiter, and 17 times as massive.

The Hottest: WASP-18b

Although the data is still preliminary, this 2009 discovery may be the hottest, says University of Central Florida professor Joseph Harrington, stealing the title from another planet that Harrington calculated to be the hottest in 2007. This speedy planet, which is 10 times the size of Jupiter, hauls its mass around its star in less than an Earth day. But title of "hottest" may still be under contention—because it is so close to its star, WASP-18b is likely to spiral into it within the next million years.

The Most Eccentric Orbit: VB 10 b

A planet that orbits its star in a perfect circle would have an eccentricity designated as 0. The eccentricity of Earth's orbit is 0.0167—a very slight oval. The orbit of VB 10 b is the most elliptical orbit known—with an eccentricity of nearly 0.98, it is even more stretched out than the orbit of Haley's comet.

The Baby: Fomalhaut b

Only 25 light-years away, Fomalhaut is a neighbor of our sun. In 2005, astronomers discovered the exoplanet Fomalhaut b hiding amid the interstellar dust surrounding Fomalhaut. The presence of the dust means that the system is still very young and is likely to have more planets form within it—Fomalhaut b may be just the first-born. And just like a baby, this planet is crawling; it takes about 876 years to orbit its star.

The Farthest from its Star: UScoCTIO 108 b

This planet, which has 14 times the mass of Jupiter, spends its days at about 670 astronomical units—about 64 billion miles—away from its star. That's about 17 times farther away than dwarf planet Pluto is from our sun.

The Farthest from Earth: OGLE-05-390L b

At 21,450 light-years away, this is the farthest exoplanet scientists have found. It is five times the mass of the Earth and twice the distance from its star and it trundles slowly around, taking 3500 days to orbit.