Today Phil explains that YES, there are other planets out there and astonomers have a lot of methods for detecting them. Nearly 2000 have been found so far. The most successful method is using transits, where a planet physically passes in front of its parent star, producing a measurable dip in the star’s light. Another is to measuring the Doppler shift in a star’s light due to reflexive motion as the planet orbits. Exoplanets appear to orbit nearly every kind of star, and we’ve even found planets that are the same size as Earth. We think there may be many billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy.
Today we are talking about the life -- and death -- of stars. Low mass stars live a long time, fusing all their hydrogen into helium over a trillion years. More massive stars like the Sun live shorter lives. They fuse hydrogen into helium, and eventually helium into carbon (and also some oxygen and neon). When this happens they expand, get brighter, and cool off, becoming red giants. They lose most of their mass, exposing their cores, and then cool off over many billions of years.
New planets are now being discovered outside our solar system on a regular basis, and these strange new worlds are forcing scientists to rewrite the history of our own solar system. Far from a simple story of stable orbits, the creation of our solar system is a tale of hellfire, chaos and planetary pinball. It's a miracle our Earth is here at all.
Since its formation in the early 60’s, NASA has continued to be the leading power in space exploration. Working with other space agencies, it has contributed substantially to the ongoing exploration of our universe, achieving incredible firsts that span the decades.
Venus is a gorgeous naked-eye planet, hanging like a diamond in the twilight -- but it’s beauty is best looked at from afar. Even though Mercury is closer to the sun, Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system, due to a runaway greenhouse effect, and has the most volcanic activity in the solar system. Its north and south poles were flipped, causing it to rotate backwards and making for very strange days on this beautiful but inhospitable world.