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published by the Astronomy Education at the University of Nebraska
written by Kevin M. Lee
This learning module introduces the search for planets outside of our solar system using the radial velocity and transit methods. The module is based on the solar nebula theory of planet formation, the idea that planets form as a natural by-product of star formation. Planets around other stars proved very elusive to find until 1995, when astronomers in Geneva detected an exoplanet using the radial velocity (or Doppler) technique. Since that time, hundreds of exoplanets have been discovered in this manner, by observing displacements in a star's spectral lines due to the Doppler effect. A second detection technique (the transit method, used in The Kepler Mission) is also explored in this module.

In the simulations, students can control the stellar and planetary properties and the system orientation. They can then observe how the graph is affected. Instructor resources are available including student manuals, assessment materials, and a list of the assumptions used.

Editor's Note: Exoplanet searching is exciting, but there is a learning curve for students to understand how radial velocity is related to center of mass in a sun/planet system. How do astronomers decide which detection method to use, and how are the results different? See Annotations for links to recommended supplementary materials.

This is part of a collection of astronomy applets.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
- Exoplanets
= Detection Methods
= Properties
Classical Mechanics
- Gravity
= Orbits
- Motion in Two Dimensions
= Center of Mass
- High School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Upper Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
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