A Renaissance in the Search for Planets

By Alex Salkever , Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 29, 1999 | Go to article overview

A Renaissance in the Search for Planets


Alex Salkever , Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


For millennia, man-kind has pondered and searched for worlds outside our solar system - for planets like Earth that could support life.

But since the advent of modern astronomy centuries ago, detection of distant planets has proved to be as difficult as finding grains of sugar on a beach. Stars, billions of times more brilliant than the worlds that circle them, make planets all but impossible to find. And decades of intense observation yielded only false alarms, earning planet-hunting a reputation as a backwater of astronomy.

During the past three years, however, this perception has radically changed. Through advances in technology, an improved understanding of planetary behavior, and increased access to better telescopes, astronomers have found 17 planets since 1995. These discoveries have revolutionized planetary science, forcing scientists to revise long-held theories about the universe and making planet- searching one of the hottest fields of astronomy. "The major change has been access to large telescopes like the Keck {a telescope in Hawaii with a mirror 30 feet across}," says William Cochran, an astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin. "With big scopes, you get a lot more light. And the faster you can get light, the faster you can detect these planets." In many ways, the recent discovery of what could be a nascent solar system 220 light-years from Earth is a symbol of this planet- hunting renaissance. Images of the would-be solar system were first captured by the Keck telescope. Later, using the Hubble Space Telescope, University of Hawaii astronomer Bradford Smith discovered that there might be a planet within the new solar system. He found the planet by searching the heavens in a different way - by looking at disks of dust around stars. He sifted infrared images of the star 220 light years away, dubbed HR 4796A. Inside its disk sat a ring that looked like hula hoop. "When we pulled the image of this star ring up on the computer screen, it looked like Saturn," says Dr. Smith. "It was like, 'Wow!' We had not really expected that." The same image that floored Smith brought a room full of normally sedate astronomers to their feet for a standing ovation at the American Astronomical Society meeting earlier this month. Indeed, the find is a breakthrough. According to previous theories, no planetary candidate should be there. The star is only 8 million to 10 million years old, supposedly far too young to have developed a large, far-flung planet like the one indicated in the Hubble images. But that's really no great surprise. Beyond the quixotic object found by Smith in the gloaming of deep space, astronomers are finding other planets that do not conform to traditional models. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Renaissance in the Search for Planets
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.