Archive for November 14, 2008

When you’ve seen one planet….

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags on November 14, 2008 by telescoper

Rumours have been circulating for several days and now we have confirmation. The most exciting news in the history of the Universe! Planets exist

Well, actually, we knew that. We live on one. And anyway, the International Astronomical Union recently stipulated that planets could only be things orbiting the Sun.  Don’t ask me why. So the new things have to be called exoplanets. And over 300 hundred of these were known before today anyway.  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, so we won’t worry about the taxonomy. But what’s the big deal?

2008111311What is different about the most recent observations, reported in today’s issue of Science, is that they involve direct detection (i.e. imaging) of exoplanets, not indirect inferences made by studying stellar wobbles. An example is shown here: the three red dots are the exoplanetary objects orbiting around the star HR 8799.

 Quite interesting.

But is every new detection of an exoplanet going to be hyped like this from now until doomsday? Or until the public gets thoroughly bored?  Might it not be better to wait until there’s a sufficiently large and unbiased sample that exoplaneticists can quit their stamp collecting and start doing some real science?

At least in cosmology nobody ever exaggerates the importance of their discoveries.