Over the next six weeks, we will be counting down to the Nobel Prize Ceremony on the 10th of December with the most interesting terms of the laureates’ scientific field. Last week, we learned about Cellular Metabolism. In this week of the countdown, we will look at the vastness of space and more specifically the term Exoplanet as the laureates James Peebles, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz won the Nobel Prize in Physics 2019.
An exoplanet, or extrasolar planet, is a planet that orbits a star outside our solar system. This means that Mars for example cannot be an exoplanet as it orbits our own star, the Sun. An exoplanet must be orbiting at least one star for it to be defined as an exoplanet. Yes, exoplanets can orbit more than one star! The exoplanet, Kepler-16b, discovered in 2011 is one of the exoplanets that orbits two stars at the same time. It is also referred to as Tatooine for its resemblance to the fictional planet orbiting two suns in the Star Wars universe.
The first exoplanet was discovered back in 1995 by the now Nobel laureates Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. They found the exoplanet, 51 Pegasi b, which is a gas planet similar to our solar system’s Jupiter. Since then, over 4.000 exoplanets have been found in the Milky Way galaxy. There are multiple techniques to finding exoplanets. Through what is called radial velocity, astronomers can look for the wobble of a star. This wobble is caused by the gravitational pulls of the orbiting planets and hereby exoplanets can be found as their mass effects their host star. Another technique such as the transit method can be used to find exoplanets through the brightness of a star. If an exoplanet passes in front of a star, the dimming light of the star shows that an exoplanet orbits the star and its mass and temperature may be calculated.
The next big thing in cosmology may be the investigation into exoplanets in the habitable zone. Through more advanced space-based telescopes currently in development, we may find another planet with life and living conditions just like Earth. However, the exoplanet has to meet certain requirements for living organisms to exist:
- The exoplanet must be within the habitable zone where it is not too hot or too cold for liquid water to exist on the surface
- It must be Earth-sized, rocky and not a gas planet
- The star of the exoplanet must be small and old enough for it to sustain life within its habitable zone
- Light emitted from the exoplanet must contain the features of Earth’s atmosphere and conditions
Next week, we will be learning about Lithium-ion batteries, their origin and how we use them in our everyday life. In the meantime, you can check out the term, Exoplanet, on IATE and learn more about exoplanets in our sources.
Press release: The Nobel Prize in Physics 2019. The Nobel Prize. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/2019/press-release/ (Accessed 4th of November)
Extrasolar planet. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/extrasolar-planet (Accessed 4th of November)
What Is an Exoplanet?. Space Place (NASA). https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/all-about-exoplanets/en/ (Accessed 4th of November)
Exoplanets: Alien Worlds. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/space/universe/exoplanets/ (Accessed 4th of November)
Water found on a potentially life-friendly alien planet. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/09/first-water-found-in-habitable-exoplanets-atmosphere-hubble-kepler-k2-18b/ (Accessed 4th of November)
An Exoplanet Discovery from Hubble on This Week @NASA – September 13, 2019. NASA (YouTube). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bJDPqd8V88 (Accessed 4th of November)
Looking for life in all the right places. NASA. https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/what-is-an-exoplanet/how-do-we-find-life/ (Accessed 4th of November)
Warm welcome: finding habitable planets. NASA. https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/what-is-an-exoplanet/how-do-we-find-habitable-planets/ (Accessed 4th of November)
Written by Mads Rise
Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg. Holds a BA in English and IT-based Marketing and Communication from the University of Southern Denmark. Mads finished his BA with a thesis on Search Engine Optimisation and E-commerce. He has hands-on experience in web communication, SEO, administration and logistics.