Time again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative online destinations.
This week, it's a website highlighting what once seemed impossible — the search for planets orbiting distant stars. More than 200 have been discovered so far, and you can learn more about those extra-solar planets, as they're called, and how astronomers look for them at planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov.
JACKSON: "Planet Quest is a one-stop shop for the general public to keep up with news and discoveries of planets around other stars, and a place to learn about the science and technology of planet finding. And also, to learn about future missions NASA is developing that will be able to detect Earth-like worlds."
Randal Jackson is a web producer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, the home of PlanetQuest. Scientists use several methods to detect planets in the far reaches of space, using both ground-based telescopes and spacecraft. On PlanetQuest, with its multimedia presentations like the 3D New Worlds Atlas, all you need to discover new worlds is a computer.
JACKSON: "And you can actually take your mouse and explore this little quadrant of our galaxy, which is about 1,000 light years across. And if you click on a specific star, you zoom in for a close-up of the planetary system around that star, and then you can print out a sky map, and then you can go out and try to locate that star in your backyard using a telescope or binoculars, or in some cases you can see these stars just with your naked eye."
PlanetQuest is designed for the general public, so it's easy to understand, and the site also includes an extensive library of material for use by students and teachers.
JACKSON: "We have a student activities guide. We direct people to some experiments they can try in planet-finding, simulating planets on their desktop or in the lab. There are math exercises. There's a demonstration you can use to show how planets make stars wobble, just using very commonplace objects like a couple of balls, a ruler and a string."
The first planet outside our solar system was discovered in 1995, and new ones are being found all the time. Keep up with the quest — or catch up on what you've been missing — at planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov, or get the link from our site, voanews.com.