An example of what one of these extra-solar planets may look like in transit.
A group of astronomers claim to have found ten new planets outside of the solar system. The group’s name is SuperWASP and it has found 15 new planets since its organization in 2004. This team has used telescopes and cameras based in the Canary Islands and South Africa to make this discovery. According to scientist Tim Leister, “The flood of new discoveries from SuperWASP will revolutionize our understanding of how planets form.”
In order to find these planets, astronomers search the cosmos for “transits.” These “transits,” are moments when the planet’s orbit passes in front of the star that it circles, forming an eclipse from our viewpoint on earth. This gives the researchers more information about the planets’ history than the gravitational technique of finding planets. Scientists have discovered around 270 extra solar planets since the 1990’s using the gravitational technique. They manage to do this by measuring the gravitational pull that the orbiting planet exerts on the star that it encircles. The planet will pull on the star as it is in orbit, forcing the giant ball of gas back and forth in space.
This, naturally, takes a very long amount of time, so the transit technique quickly discovers more planets. The two cameras will search the heavens for these transits, as they each scan a large area of sky, looking at millions of stars every day. Scientists then pour over these records, finding planets and easily deducing their mass and volume. Scientists are optimistic about finding many more of these extra-solar planets, hopefully some of which hold conditions that could possibly allow life to exist.