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13. Discovery of Extrasolar Planets - Nifty 50

astronomical object

Observatories and their telescopes, funded and supported by NSF, have helped to discover and identify over two dozen new planets outside our solar system since 1991.

In 1991, NSF-funded researchers at Penn State University discovered the first of three extra solar planets by using radio telescopes. Two of these planets are similar in mass to the Earth. The third has roughly the mass of the moon. Because these planets are orbiting a pulsar, the collapsed remnant of a supernova explosion, none of them is likely to support life.

New planet discoveries

In 1995, an American team of astronomers independently confirmed by optical techniques the discovery of a fourth new planet. NSF funded the American team, consisting of Geoffrey Marcy and Paul Butler.

In 1996, Marcy and Butler announced the optical detection of two more planets orbiting sun-like stars, thus beginning a streak of extrasolar planet discoveries now totaling more than two dozen and increasing rapidly.

The NSF-funded radio telescopes at Arecibo in Puerto Rico and the Very Large Array telescope in New Mexico were used to detect evidence of the planets orbiting pulsars.

Most of the NSF-supported optical detections of extra solar planets by Marcy and Butler have been made with the Lick telescope at the University of California and the Keck telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Original publication date: April 2000

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