Once upon a time, an exoplanet was discovered

April 16, 2018

In recent history, a very important achievement was the discovery, in 1995, of 51 Pegasi b, the first extrasolar planet ever found around a normal star other than the Sun. In a paper published in EPJ H, Davide Cenadelli from the Aosta Valley Astronomical Observatory (Italy) interviews Michel Mayor from Geneva Observatory (Switzerland) about his personal recollections of discovering this exoplanet. They discuss how the development of better telescopes made the discovery possible. They also delve into how this discovery contributed to shaping a new community of scholars pursuing this new field of research. In closing, they reflect upon the cultural importance that the 51 Pegasi b discovery had in terms of changing our view of the cosmos.

Michel Mayor was born in Lausanne in 1942. He turned to astronomy when he did his PhD at the Geneva Observatory, where he focused on elucidating the theoretical nature of the spiral arms of galaxies, which make it possible for stars and nebulae to pass through without permanently remaining inside the arms. Later on his interest shifted to solar-type stars, and in 1991 he published the result of 15 years of work on the statistics of such solar-type stars. In hindsight, this paper played a significant role in boosting, at a later time, his interest in brown dwarfs and planets. He feels that the search for exoplanets was a direct continuation of that work.

He then relates what drove the development of a spectrograph called ELODIE, designed to offer very high sensitivity in measuring the radial velocities of stars. ELODIE commenced operation in April 1994, and Mayor and his colleague Queloz discovered 51 Peg b in July 1995. As the first planet ever discovered around a normal star other than the Sun, it was a ground-breaking achievement. A few years later, Mayor contributed to designing and building another state-of-the-art spectrograph, called HARPS, that is now allowing astronomers to probe the universe further. Altogether about 300 new exoplanets have been discovered by Mayor and his co-workers since 51 Peg b.
-end-
References: Michel Mayor and Davide Cenadelli (2018), Exoplanets: the beginning of a new era in astrophysics, Eur. Phys. Jour. H, DOI 10.1140/epjh/e2018-80063-1

Springer

Related Planet Articles from Brightsurf:

Astronomers discover planet that never was
What was thought to be an exoplanet in a nearby star system likely never existed in the first place, according to University of Arizona astronomers.

The ocean responds to a warming planet
The oceans help buffer the Earth from climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide and heat at the surface and transporting it to the deep ocean.

About the distribution of biodiversity on our planet
Large open-water fish predators such as tunas or sharks hunt for prey more intensively in the temperate zone than near the equator.

Sub-Neptune sized planet validated with the habitable-zone planet finder
A signal originally detected by the Kepler spacecraft has been validated as an exoplanet using the Habitable-zone Planet Finder.

Feeding the world without wrecking the planet is possible
A study led by researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) now suggests a comprehensive solution package for feeding 10 billion people within our planet's environmental boundaries.

A planet that should not exist
Astronomers detected a giant planet orbiting a small star. The planet has much more mass than theoretical models predict.

A Goldilocks zone for planet size
Harvard University researchers described a new, lower size limit for planets to maintain surface liquid water for long periods of time, extending the so-called Habitable or 'Goldilocks'' Zone for small, low-gravity planets.

A second planet in the Beta Pictoris system
A team of astronomers led by Anne-Marie Lagrange, a CNRS researcher, has discovered a second giant planet in orbit around β Pictoris, a star that is relatively young (23 million years old) and close (63.4 light years), and surrounded by a disk of dust.

How plants are working hard for the planet
As the planet warms, plants are working to slow the effect of human-caused climate change -- and research published today in Trends in Plant Science has assessed how plants are responding to increasing carbon dioxide (CO2).

More support for Planet Nine
Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin offer further clues about Planet Nine.

Read More: Planet News and Planet Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.