The Search for Exoplanets: What Astronomers Know : The Great Courses: Astronomy

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Joshua N. Winn
  • Series: The Great Courses: Astronomy
  • 12 hrs and 17 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

As recently as 1990, it seemed plausible that the solar system was a unique phenomenon in our galaxy. Thanks to advances in technology and clever new uses of existing data, now we know that planetary systems and possibly even a new Earth can be found throughout galaxies near and far.
We are living during a new golden age of planetary discovery, with the prospect of finding many worlds like Earth. Most of the thousands of planets we've detected can't be imaged directly, but researchers are able to use subtle clues obtained in ingenious ways to assemble an astonishing picture of planetary systems far different from our own. We are in the midst of an astronomical revolution, comparable to the Copernican revolution that established our current view of the solar system - and we invite you to take part.
Embark on this unrivaled adventure in 24 lectures by a veteran planet hunter. Designed for everyone from armchair explorers to serious skywatchers, The Search for Exoplanets follows the numerous twists and turns in the hunt for exoplanets - the false starts, the sudden breakthroughs, and the extraordinary discoveries. Explore systems containing super-Earths, mini-Neptunes, lava worlds, and even stranger worlds. You also get behind-the-scenes information on the techniques astronomers used to find evidence of planets at mind-boggling distances from our home base. Learn how astronomers determine how many planets are in a system as well as how large they are and the characteristics of their atmospheres. You will feel like Dr. Watson in the presence of Sherlock Holmes as Professor Winn extracts a wealth of information from a spectrum, a light graph, a diffraction pattern, and other subtle clues.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Fun across the universe

This lecture series is interesting and fun. As a non-astronomer, with close to zero knowledge about stars and planets beyond our own solar system, I was curious to find out what could possibly be known about unimaginably distant planets, when the only data we have to inform us are tiny dots of light in the night sky. And those tiny dots of light aren’t even planets, they are stars, so how the heck can we know if these stars even have planets orbiting them, when these can't be seen by the most powerful telescopes.

But, quite a lot is known, or rather, has been deduced, by a bunch of extremely clever space geeks who have analysed the light emanating from distant stars and noticed that this light changes ever-so-slightly whenever a planet crosses in front of a star. This event, called a ‘transit’, is relatively rare, because the planet has to be positioned exactly between us and the star for this to occur. So it is roughly as rare as an eclipse would be in our solar system. But, fortunately for us, there are billions of stars out there - and so even a relatively rare event will occur enough times to supply the astronomers with lots of information about the size, orbit periods (‘years’) and composition of these planets.

So there’s lots of good stuff in this lecture series, narrated in an excellent and interesting style, and, unlike other lecture series I’ve listened to, this one is right up to date - recorded in 2015.

I learnt that the majority of solar systems in the universe have two or more suns orbiting around each other, rather than just the one as in our solar system. How come we can’t see these twin or triplet stars? Because, from a great distance they appear as just one blob of light.

And I also learnt that stars are classified by their luminosity according to this sequence of letters: o,b,f,g,k,m,l,t and y, in descending order of brightness where 'o' is the brightest and 'y' is the faintest (our sun is a 'g' star). This sequence is easily committed to memory using the mnemonic 'Old Bald Fat Guys Kiss More Ladies Than You'. This proves two things: Firstly, that space geeks have a sense of humour, and secondly, that the first sentence of my review is true.
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- Mark "I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!"


Great course, literally and metaphorically. Enjoyed listening to this immensely. A very detailed survey of the field of exoplanets but I never felt lost. In fact some of the more general physics concepts here where more clearly explained than any other course I've listened to. Hugely accessible.
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- DullingWine

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-25-2015
  • Publisher: The Great Courses