Monday Astronomy Picture Ponderings 8/22/2022
To Be A Planet: Not As Rare As Once Thought
The number of confirmed planets outside our Solar System continues to rise
Welcome back to the Monday Astronomy Picture Ponderings (MAPPs) series where every Monday I normally pick one of NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) entries from the past seven days to focus on in some way.
We’ve always loved to think we’re special. And while there’s nothing wrong with highlighting each of our own unique traits, we often let our ego take control a bit.
Historically, we believed that our planet was the center of, well, everything. We believed that the Sun orbited us. We believed that all the stars orbited us. We believed that those weird dots of light in the night sky that predictably wandered throughout the years, and that were eventually identified as planets, also orbited us. We believed Earth to be singularly and utterly unique and special from anything else “out there”.
Slowly, astronomical observations proved these each, one by one, to be inaccurate.
The Earth and all the other objects in our Solar System orbit the Sun, our neighborhood star. They don’t orbit us.
We are not the center of the Solar System, but are the third planet from the Sun, with another five planets further out than us. We are not even at the center when considering the distance between the Sun at one end and Neptune at the other.
The Solar System is not at the center of our own galaxy nor at the center of the universe of galaxies.
We used to believe that the formation of planets was rare, that the chance of everything happening when and where it needed to for a planet to form around a star was small and therefore planets were few and far between.
But the question bugged scientists: how many planets did orbit other stars?
This was no easy task. Even when observing through telescopes, stars are very far away from us, making finding objects hundreds of times smaller than the pinpricks of light in our night sky, extremely elusive.