Observing the Planets with a Telescope

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Observing the Moon and the Sun
Episode 4 of Our Night Sky Series
Charting the motions and changes of the sun and moon may be humankind's oldest astronomical activity. Discover how both objects offer rich opportunities for study. Also learn the precautions to take when observing the sun, which is the only star that can be seen up close and in detail.
The Misplaced Giant Planets
Investigate 51 Pegasi b, the first planet detected around a Sun-like star, which shocked astronomers by being roughly the size of Jupiter but in an orbit much closer to its star than Mercury is to the Sun. Probe the strange characteristics of these "hot Jupiters," which have turned up around…
Explaining the Misplaced Giant Planets
The standard theory of planet formation is based on our solar system. But does this view require revision based on the existence of misplaced giant planets--hot Jupiters circling close to their parent stars? Compare competing theories that try to resolve this conflict.
Transiting Planets and the Kepler Mission
The planet search took a giant leap forward in 2009 with the launch of the Kepler spacecraft, which used the transit technique to observe nearly 200,000 stars over a four-year period. Study Kepler's goals, results, and the persistence of the astronomer who championed it.
Planets Circling Two Stars
See how data from the Kepler spacecraft confirms a scenario straight out of the movie Star Wars: a planet with two suns. Investigate the tricky orbital mechanics of these systems. A double star also complicates the heating and cooling cycle on a planet. However, the view is spectacular!
Earthlike Planets
Begin your search for planets that may harbor life by studying the conditions that make Earth habitable, including its distance from the Sun, surface temperature, atmosphere, and oceans. Then examine strategies for finding earthlike planets and the progress to date.
Finding Planets with Gravitational Lensing
Get a lesson in Einstein's general theory of relativity to understand an effect called gravitational microlensing, which allows astronomers to deduce a planet's existence without recording any light from the planet or its host star. This technique reveals exoplanets that would otherwise go undetected.
Finding Planets with Direct Imaging
Turn to the most obvious way to find exoplanets: direct imaging. Explore the optics of telescopes to learn why spotting an exoplanet next to its parent star is so difficult. Then see how this limitation has been overcome in a handful of cases.
The Rationale for a Space Telescope
Episode 1 of Experiencing Hubble
Begin your exploration of the scientific stories behind 10 of the most fascinating images made by the Hubble Space Telescope. In this episode, learn about Hubble's design and how its operations were almost cut short by a flaw in its mirror, a problem corrected during a space shuttle servicing mission.
Using Binoculars and Backyard Telescopes
Episode 3 of Our Night Sky Series
There are many choices when selecting binoculars or a telescope. Learn what to look for in light-gathering power, optical design, magnification, mounts, and other features. Professor Murphy also suggests several tips for getting the best observing experience out of your equipment.
Tracking Planet Positions and Conjunctions
Until the invention of the telescope in 1610, astronomy was mostly the study of the sky positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets. Learn the extraordinary precision attained by ancient astronomers in their observations. Discover why they prized this knowledge, and also uncover a lost great discovery of the Babylonians.
Doppler and Transit Planet-Finding Methods
Explore two other indirect approaches for finding exoplanets: first, by measuring the Doppler shift in the color of a star due to the pull of an unseen orbiting planet; and second, by measuring the tiny drop in the brightness of a star as a planet transits in front of it.