Planets, planets everywhere

Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 15:20 in Astronomy & Space

Recent discoveries have transformed scientific understanding of the galaxy, showing a Milky Way teeming with planets, some of them circling stars in bizarre configurations compared to the staid solar system, University of Toronto astronomer Ray Jayawardhana said Wednesday. Jayawardhana, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study this year, said that understanding of the Milky Way has advanced dramatically since the early 1990s, when the only known planets in the galaxy were those circling the sun. From its incremental beginnings, the search for planets around other stars, dubbed extra-solar planets or “exoplanets,” has met more and more success as astronomers devised techniques and took advantage of technological advances. The search dramatically accelerated in 2009 when NASA launched the Kepler Space Telescope, designed to find Earth-like planets elsewhere in the galaxy. Though Kepler has focused on a relatively small patch of sky — as big up close as one’s hand extended at arm’s...

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