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November 9 2012

How Do Alien Worlds Reveal Themselves?


You might think that finding a planet orbiting a distant star would simply require a bigger telescope -- after all, bigger telescopes reveal fainter and finer details. So why not build a really, really big 'scope and you can chalk up dozens of exoplanetary discoveries! Right? Not quite.

Detecting these alien worlds is made difficult because of their close proximity to bright stars, making them incredibly challenging to see directly. Also, if the exoplanet is located far enough away from its host star, the meager light it reflects would be too faint for even the biggest optical telescope. It is for these reasons that increasingly ingenious indirect techniques of detection are being relied upon. Only 7 percent of exoplanets discovered so far have been observed directly.

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