December 31, 2009

Exoplanetary Year-end Summary

It has been a terrific year for Exoplanetology. First things first: Numbers. At the year's end the total known exoplanets is 415. At the beginning of 2009 it was only around 331. So for the past year there were around 84 new exoplanets discovered--overshooting my forecast about the Future of Exoplanetology which I posted at the beginning of 2009.
Of course, the launch of Kepler last March makes 2009 even more special for planetary science.

The Meme
Well, I'm happy to say that Exoplanetology is now in history. Yes, the Brussels Journal dubbed Exoplanetology as an important new branch of planetary Science. Also several articles from the coolest magazines has mentioned Exoplanetology in their articles--Wired and SEED magazine to name a few. Wired Magazine even created a special tag for it. Another thing is that Exoplanetology is making it's way into, being mentioned in some important papers. Michel Mayor even said that the future of Exoplanetology is bright!

In the movies, there's no doubt that Avatar has all aspects of Exoplanetology written all over it. Upon which we can add District 9 as a surprise hit, which hinted at the Prawns' homeworld with seven moons. Another surprise was Pandorum, the scifi thriller that mentioned mankind's detection of another habitable world and the trouble we might encounter on a perilous journey to an exoplanet.

All exoplanet discoveries are important. But the notable ones that captured much of the public's attention early this year were CoRoT-7 b the first known exoplanet with a density similar to that of Earth – even if the planetary surface seems less Earth-like with scorching temperatures. Then Michel Mayor's discoveries in the Gliese 581 planetary system. Gliese 581 e is still the least massive among all exoplanets to date--at twice the mass of earth and rocky, it is also perceived to date as among the most similar to earth from among the zoo of giant exoplanets.

My personal favorite is actually WASP-17 b because it teaches about the Rossiter-McLaughlin Effect on how to determine the exoplanet's direction of orbit.

GJ 1214 b was discovered using MEarth, a project headed by David Charbonneau--that uses commercially available cameras and amateur grade telescopes controlled robotically. Very cool indeed, as it serves as an inspiration for amateur exoplanet enthusiasts with entry-level toolkits.

Some new important things learned for 2009 were the relationship of exoplanets to the Lithium content of their parent stars. Thus this provides the astronomers with a new, cost-effective way to search for planetary systems: by checking the amount of lithium present in a star astronomers can decide which stars are worthy of further significant observing efforts.
The introduction of the Habitability Index was nice as it somewhat upgrades the Drake Equation, which is quite outdated judging from the new findings in planetary science.

There are definitely a lot of other noteworthy things that I failed to mention in this post. There's simply too many of them. But if you need more atomic details for the exoplanetary things that happened in the past year of 2009, please check this interactive timeline.

Thus, we close 2009 with a Bang! Many thanks to all who supported this blog in any way, by simply reading my posts, or via links, tweets, mentions, and so on. You are much appreciated. You truly inspire me. As the steward of this site, I hope to continue to share to others that inspiration.

Happy New Year, Earthlings!!!