The first exoplanets, or extrasolar planets, were definitively discovered in the 1990s, although the idea of other worlds like ours goes back to the ancient Greeks, and their existence had been theorized by Giordano Bruno in the 16th century and Isaac Newton in the 18th. The first direct images of exoplanets were produced in 2008. Now, nearly two thousand have been found, as well as many more that are candidates. Over a thousand of these are credited to NASA’s Kepler Telescope onboard the spacecraft launched in 2009 and modified to the K2 mission in 2014. The Kepler’s photometer monitored the brightness of stars and transmitted its data to Earth, where analysis could detect periodic dimming caused by extrasolar planets crossing in front of their host stars (the transiting method). Many exoplanets are around relatively faint stars, so the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) mission, set to launch in 2017, will be searching for exoplanets that pass in front of bright stars, making them easier to study. The TESS spacecraft will have four cameras, each with its own telescope. The exoplanets discovered by TESS will be studied by the ground-based telescopes and later by the James Webb Space Telescope.
The Science, Technology & Business Division is excited to have the Project Scientist for the TESS mission, Stephen Rinehart, as the next speaker in our NASA/Goddard lecture series. Dr. Rinehart is an astrophysicist and the Associate Chief for the Laboratory for Observational Cosmology at Goddard. His talk will be Thursday, October 8, 2015, from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in the Mary Pickford Theater on the third floor of the Library’s James Madison Memorial Building.
In 2013, the Library hosted the program “Exotic Earths: Exploring Planets Around other Stars” with NASA Goddard research scientist and astrobiologist Dr. Avi Mandell. You can view a recording of this program on the Library’s webcast page and YouTube Channel.
If you want to learn more about exoplanets check out JPL’s PlanetQuest website.
This post was authored by science reference librarian Stephanie Marcus, who coordinates the NASA Goddard lectures series at the Library.