SITE VISIT: Atlas of Other Worlds ...

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Science  30 Oct 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5390, pp. 839
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5390.839a

It was headline news in 1995 when astronomers spied the first planet orbiting another star like our sun. But now that the number of confirmed “extrasolar planets” has climbed to 12, each new discovery shines less brightly. Indeed, it's tough to keep tabs on the growing roster of distant bodies—unless one consults the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia, a site maintained by the Paris Observatory.

This no-nonsense site offers thorough statistics, including locations, likely sizes, and shapes of orbits, for planets and failed stars called brown dwarfs, most of which reveal themselves via slight gravitational tugs on their parent stars. Astronomers will find useful links to the Web sites of all planetary search programs, as well as a bibliography of more than 750 papers related to distant worlds. Visitors can also download tutorials on how astronomers pursue their quarry and the physical properties that may make other planets habitable. The goal is to “create a cooperative spirit among researchers” in this field, says astronomer Jean Schneider, the site's coordinator.

“A lot of people get information about emerging planet discoveries from this site,” says planet hunter Steven Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz. But he cautions that some of the site's advertised “planets” aren't peer reviewed, and a few have vanished under scientific scrutiny.

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