July 23, 2009

Farthest, Nearest...and any exoplanet in between

ExoplanetOn twitter, someone asked me a question how far away the most distant confirmed exoplanet is. The answer is quite tricky. Rapid developments in exoplanet discovery renders the answer outdated within a few months or few years. Therefore, my answer will involve *how* to obtain the answer from the web so that the answer will have a longer "shelf-life" and stay as close to accurate as possible. Hopefully, this post will also benefit those who want answers to related questions--such as what the closest exoplanet is, and so on.
Start by going to The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia and sort the catalog via distance (by clicking the distance column).
The answer yields the topnotch most distant exoplanets to date OGLE-05-390L b, MOA-2007-BLG-400-L b at around 6,500 & 6,000 parsecs. This is roughly around ~21,190 & ~19,500 light-years away respectively.
But remember, independent exoplanet researchers from different countries may publish papers with different values. And you may stumble upon outdated information. The exoplanet SWEEPS-10 is still listed at 22,000 light-years away. So a little bit of research is definitely needed to answer questions in the nascent field of Exoplanetology.
Now if you want to be adventurous and ask a "mashup" question such as "What is the closest Super-earth?" then I recommend playing with the list of exoplanets on Exoplanetology at Freebase.
In that interface, you can add columns and refine the view to obtain details you've never seen before. More details will be reserved for another blogpost about Freebase, but the main thing to note is that answering your questions means getting involved with it in some way.
In a new field of Science, you most often need to input reliable data in order to obtain reliable answers. You can start by getting an account at Freebase and start inputting reliable data from reliable sources.
In this day and age where Citizen Science is proliferating, your interest is very precious. You are encouraged to contribute and learn. That makes you part of the revolution in Science.