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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.
22 of 23 people found this review helpful
If you 1) love looking at the night sky, 2) love wondering what or who is out there, and 3) take interest in technical details at least of middle-level sophistication (for example, there are five different methods of planet-hunting, each treated in detail and involving their own brief physics lessons), I would recommend this listen for sure! The professor is very well-spoken and genial. And the subject matter is treated with an eye to the future — no arrogance at all in assuming that what's known today is anything close to what we'll know some day. It's the past, present and future of the exoplanet search. One note: if you are interested especially in the search for intelligent life, you may be left wanting more. The bulk of the course is the nuts and bolts of exoplanetary science, and it so happens that many planets found are not thought to be life candidates. But all the background knowledge will help you appreciate why it's so challenging to find life candidates. Our technological challenges so far have actually seemed biased against detecting such planets. I think it's a fascinating story, well-told.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of The Search for Exoplanets: What Astronomers Know to be better than the print version?
I'm just an ordinary chap with an interest in many subjects including astronomy. I found this audible book very informative and even very exciting in places. Professor Winn explains everything with clarity and enthusiasm. I will, in the near future, revisit this audible book and listen to it again. Highly recommended!
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
This was a well structured romp through the very topical and exciting field of extra solar planetary science by a research scientist working in the field. As such it was highly informative, detailed and broad ranging, covering the historical background and recent (at the time of presentation) developments in this fast changing area. Pretty much everything you need to know to follow current and future discoveries is here.
The course does not require extensive prior knowledge or higher mathematics, but neither does it try to oversimplify...it attains a kind of intellectual Goldilocks level of comfort! The performance as also excellent making this a real gem of a course for those interested in the subject matter. Strongly recommended!
4 of 4 people found this review helpful