Forget about rockets to Mars–the future of space science lies with the search for exoplanets Twenty years ago, the search for planets–and life–outside the solar system was a job restricted to science fiction writers. It is now one of the most rapidly growing fields in astronomy, with more than 4,600 of these “exoplanets” discovered so far.
The detection of these worlds has only been possible in the last decade, with the number of discoveries increasing enormously over the last year following the findings of the Kepler Space Telescope. There have been some truly stunning recent discoveries, not least the fact that there seem to be planetary systems around pretty much every star. Drilling down closer to learn more about individual planets we encounter “Mega-Earth,” for example, Kepler-10c, which is made of rocks like our planet but is 17 times bigger, and orbits its sun in just 45 days; Kepler 16 orbits around a binary star system, while Kepler 11 has five stars, all closer in orbit to their star than Mercury is to the Sun.
Perhaps most intriguing of all was the discovery in April 2014 of an Earth-sized planet that lies in the “Goldilocks zone” -an area of space where temperatures potentially allow water to exist in its liquid state, with this planet therefore capable of theoretically supporting oceans. The Planet Factory tells the story of exoplanets, planets orbiting stars outside of our solar system. It discusses the way these planets form, their structure and features, and describes in detail the detection techniques used (there are many) before looking at what we can learn about the surface environments and planetary atmospheres, and whether this hints at the tantalizing possibility of life.
An informative and entertaining read, The Planet Factory takes the reader to the cutting edge of the ongoing search for worlds like our own, and the hints of life elsewhere in the cosmos. 523.4 TAS, 336 pages.