• March Planetarium Preview: Shockingly Strange Solar Systems: Discoveries of Planets Beyond Our Sun!

    Up until recently, astronomers knew little to nothing about planetary systems outside of our own. However, in 2009, NASA launched the Kepler space telescope and our knowledge of distant planets and solar systems grew astronomically. And although the space telescope could not closely observe individual planets, it was able to detect thousands of celestial bodies and determine their sizes, distances from central stars, and much more – based simply on the light intensities of the stars that they orbited.

    On Tuesday, March 6, and Friday, March 9, Mt. Hood Community College Planetarium Director Pat Hanrahan will present “Shockingly Strange Solar Systems: Discoveries of Planets Beyond Our Sun,” with shows at 6 and 7:15 p.m. each day. During his presentation, Hanrahan will delve into some of the discoveries produced by the Kepler telescope.

    For example, when astronomers first began studying these foreign worlds, they expected that many of them would resemble our own solar system. But that’s not what they found. The proximity of some of these planets to their central stars means temperatures on their surfaces is more than a thousand degrees hotter than that of Mercury (800 degrees Fahrenheit). Other planets are dead worlds still circling the remnants of stars that exploded into supernovas centuries ago. On the opposite end of the spectrum though, astronomers recently found some planets possibly capable of sustaining life.

    Visitors are encouraged to ask questions during each 45-minute live program. Children are welcome to attend. The MHCC Planetarium is wheelchair accessible. Admission for the general public is $5, and $2 for children (17 and younger) and for MHCC students (identification required). Seating is limited and available on a first come, first served basis.

    An artist’s rendition shows a planet with some similarities to Earth, including an atmosphere that contains water vapor, methane and carbon dioxide. But the resemblances stop there. This planet orbits so close to its host star that it's atmosphere is literally being burned off and blown into space. We now know of thousands of other planets, and scientists are amazed as they learn more about them. NASA can determine incredible details about planets going around other stars based on how light from their central stars is modified when a planet crosses in front of them.