Other Worlds: Discovering Planets Beyond our Solar System

David Helfand
David Helfand
Columbia University

David Helfand has been a Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University for 42 years, where he served as chair of the Department for nearly half that time. He is also the former President of the American Astronomical Society and of Quest University Canada, and currently serves as Chair of the American Institute of Physics. Professor Helfand has received the Columbia Presidential Teaching Award and the Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates. He is the author of A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age.

 

Overview

After 400 years of speculating about the existence of planets beyond the Solar System, work over the past two decades has finally borne fruit: our planetary home is not unique. The discovery of extrasolar planets took so long because it is hard. Picture the Sun, nearly a million miles across, as an orange in New York City. To scale, the Earth is a grain of sand 15 feet away. Standing on this grain of sand, our task is to find another grain of sand, fifteen feet from its orange — in Minneapolis. And that’s for the closest star; most of the planetary systems we’ve discovered are hundreds of times farther away. In this course, Professor Helfand will review the technology employed to accomplish this feat and present the results: thousands of new planets — including more than one hundred that are just like Earth.

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