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Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Looking at stars with exoplanets

The south-western sky as seen from the Southern hemipshere around 9:30 pm local time (you will need to click on the image to see the chart properly).

Where are the stars with exoplanets? Well, all over really. There is almost no direction that you can look in without you gaze falling on an area that has a star that has an exoplanet around it. True, most of these stars are too faint to see with the unaided eye, or just on the threshold of visibility.
However, two of the three exoplanetary systems that have been observed visually recently are quite bright, and can be easily observed with the unaided eye from the southern hemisphere (sorry northern hemisphere folks, we've got the brightest galaxies and globular clusters too).

Fomalhaut is magnitude 1.3, and beta Pictoris is magnitude 3.9, making them easily visible under suburban skies, you don't have to trek into the bush to see them. Fomalhaut is the easiest to spot at the moment. At around 9:30 pm, look west, take a moment to appreciate Venus and Jupiter, then raise your gaze towards the zenith. The first reasonably bright star you see near the zenith is Fomalhaut, home to a Jupiter sized world orbiting far out.

Beta Pictoris is a little harder to pick up, but only a little. Looking to the South west you will see a very bright yellowish star, this is Canopus, the dimmer star just above and slightly to the left of Canopus is Beta Pictoris.

So, the next fine night, while you are looking at the antics of Venus and Jupiter, take time to have a look at these stars, and tell your friends or kids that alien worlds orbit them.

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