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Much has been discovered in the previous 15 years concerning planets orbiting stars outside our solar system. For an object to be defined as a planet, the following must be present:
- Objects with true masses that is less than the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium that orbit stars or stellar remnants
- Objects that are true masses and above the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium
- Free-floating objects in young star clusters with masses below the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium are sub-brown dwarfs not stars
Prior to the 1990's we had hypothesized that they existed but had no proof. The first proof came when the wobble method was used to determine a planets existence. The wooble method can detect the existence of an Plantagenet by observing the gravitational effect it has on its parent star. Each exoplanet tugs slightly on its parent star as it orbits. This can be observed by noticing the shift of the light from the parent star. As the exoplanet moves behind the star is tugs it slightly away from our observation point. This results in a Doppler effect of the light leaving that parent star, known as red or blue shift.
Exoplanets - The Transit Method
Another method for finding exoplanets is the transit method. The Kepler space telescope is currently using this method to find hundreds of exoplanets. This measures the amount of light leaving a parent star and detects a slight dimming as the exoplanet passes in front of that star. This is a minuscule effect, but still detectable by our space telescopes.
Exoplanets - Stable Stars
We have currently found several hundred exoplanets and they seem to exist around all stable stars. We have found some that are massive, roughly the size of Jupiter, and orbit their host stars in only a few days at extremely close distances. We have found small rocky planets like ours and smaller water planets.
A goal is to find a small rocky planet in what is referred to as the goldilocks zone. This is the small zone around each star where water remains liquid on a planets surface. We expect his is the most likely place to find life outside our solar system. We hope in the near future to be able to observe a planet visually and to read the composition of an exoplanet's atmosphere.
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