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Date: Thu Oct 24 12:57:13 1996
Posted by: Justin Rabine
Grade level: 4-6
School/Organization: Hudson Falls Middle School
City: Hudson Falls State/Province: NY
Country: USA


What is the latest star to be discovered? When was it discovered and by whom?

You've asked a difficult question... not because the information is hard to find, but because of the way we get information from telescopes!

When you go outside on a clear, dark night, you can see as many as perhaps 3000 stars over the course of the evening with just your eye. With a telescope, you can see more-- even with a modest telescope you can see many millions of stars! Imagine how many can be found with a really BIG telescope!

And there's the problem. So many stars are seen every time a picture of the sky is taken that no one really thinks any more about the newest star discovered. I recently worked with an image from Hubble Space Telescope where we can see tens of thousands of stars, and perhaps a tenth of them or more have never been detected before. This happens almost every time Hubble is used, too!

On the other hand, there are people whose job it is to catalog stars (and other objects in the sky like nebulae and galaxies). Before Hubble was launched, a giant catalog of 13 million stars was compiled just so Hubble could figure out where to point! There is a new, very ambitious catalog being started called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. They are going to take very long images of a quarter of the sky (in the northern hemisphere) as well as spectra. Spectra break the light up from stars into colors, and those colors can tell us a lot about the stars (such as what they are made of, how far away they are, and a lot more). This will be the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken. And it will be accessible through the Internet!

Besides stars, new planets are being found all the time too. These planets orbit other stars in our Galaxy. We have not actually seen these planets, but we can detect the gravitational pull they have on their parent stars.

More information about the Sloan Digital Sky Survey can be found here.

Here is the Hubble Space Telescope home page.

Information about the new planets can be found in many places, so here are two of them:

  • This page is from two of the researchers looking for planets!

  • This page (in France) has a nice list of planets that have been found.

    ©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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