April 18, 2014

Astro-Challenge: What’s so Special About 51 Pegasi?

A northern hemisphere finder chart for 51 Peg, looking NW after dusk. (Created in Starry Night).

A northern hemisphere finder chart for 51 Peg, looking NW after dusk. (Created in Starry Night).

It’s hard to imagine a time before we knew of worlds beyond our own solar system. These days, extra-solar (or “exoplanets”) are back page news, as discoveries occur almost daily.  But scant decades ago (Waaay back in the pre-Internet Stone Age of the early 1990’s) no exoplanets were known, and the entire field was open to great conjecture. This was also one of the great variables underpinning the famous Drake Equation which attempts to quantify how many intelligent civilizations might exist in our galaxy; i.e. “how many stars possess solar systems?” That all changed in the 90’s, and the discovery of a planet in October 1995 by Geoffrey Marcy and Paul Butler orbiting the star 51 Pegasi in the constellation Pegasus was pivotal in opening the flood gates. [Read more...]