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The Hunt for Extrasolar Planets

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Fri Mar 2, 2007 1:02 am
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The search for other planets than the Earth accompanied mankind since the beginning of their existence. The first, so to say western, concept was the geocentric view of Ptolemeus shortly after the turn of ages after Jesus Christ: the Earth stands in the middle of the universe. The Inka, Maya and Aztec may have had other views.

Several hundred years later at around 1500, Nikolaus Copernicus set the sun into the middle of the cosmos for his heliocentric view and developed a system of circular paths for the planets.

Only about 100 years later, Johannes Kepler discovered the real nature of the universe. The solar system is not the center of the universe and the planets, more exactly every celestial object, orbits another on elliptical curves.

The planets themselves were called after gods. In ancient times five planets were known: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. As Earth was seen as the middle of everything it wasn’t counted. Later then, in the 18th and 19th century, the two remaining planets of the solar system were discovered: Uranus and Neptune.

In the beginning of the 20th century the former planet Pluto was discovered, but in the mean time the „planet“ lost its planetary status again. During the whole 20th century the search for the infamous so called Planet X was undertaken but no major celestial object was found. Instead in the early 1990s several larger objects were discovered beyond Pluto’s orbit, asteroids of the Kuiper belt, some the size of Pluto.

As it became clear, that there wouldn’t be any more planetary discoveries possible in the solar system, the search exceeded the boundaries of our system. Another drive for this search was the ancient question: „Are we alone?“.

With more and more probes flying through the solar system and landing on planets, it became clear in the 20th century, that no highly developed life exists in the system besides the life on Earth. The only hopes were to find microscopic forms of life. But with the fast developing technology, mainly electronics, the search for planets and therefore life outside the solar system got in range.

The hunt for extrasolar planets has begun.

Watch out for the next part of the hunt for extrasolar planets.

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