Studying planet populations with Einstein's blip

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6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Although Einstein originally judged that 'there is no great chance of observing this phenomenon', the 'most curious effect' of the bending of starlight by the gravity of intervening foreground stars - now commonly referred to as 'gravitational microlensing' has become one of the successfully applied techniques to detect planets orbiting stars other than the Sun, while being quite unlike any other. With more than 400 extra-solar planets known altogether, the discovery of a true sibling of our home planet seems to have become simply a question of time. However, in order to properly understand the origin of Earth, carrying all its various life forms, models of planet formation and orbital evolution need to be brought into agreement with the statistics of the full variety of planets like Earth and unlike Earth. Given the complementarity of the currently applied planet detection techniques, a comprehensive picture will only arise from a combination of their respective findings. Gravitational microlensing favours a range of orbital separations that covers planets whose orbital periods are too long to allow detection by other indirect techniques, but which are still too close to their host star to be detected by means of their emitted or reflected light. Rather than being limited to the Solar neighbourhood, a unique opportunity is provided for inferring a census of planets orbiting stars belonging to two distinct populations within the Milky Way, with a sensitivity not only reaching down to Earth mass, but even below, with ground-based observations. The capabilities of gravitational microlensing extend even to obtaining evidence of a planet orbiting a star in another galaxy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3535-3550
Number of pages16
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. A, Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Volume368
Issue number1924
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2010

Keywords

  • general relativity
  • gravitational lensing
  • extra-solar planets
  • extra-terrestrial life
  • MAIN-SEQUENCE STARS
  • GRAVITATIONAL LENS
  • MICROLENSING EVENTS
  • EXTRASOLAR PLANETS
  • EARTH-MASS
  • HIGH-MAGNIFICATION
  • DETECTING PLANETS
  • HABITABLE ZONES
  • GALACTIC HALO
  • SYSTEM

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