In the past two and a half decades, more than 4000 planets have been discovered orbiting other stars beyond our own Solar System. This has sparked a revolution in astronomy as we realize our Solar System is not alone. However, we still don’t know if our Solar System is rare or unique — the powerful techniques that detect extrasolar planets have discovered systems very different than our own. In recent years, advances in technology have allowed a handful of giant planets to be imaged directly.
Find out about the first-ever images of other solar systems — and the technology that has allowed us to discover them, such as the Gemini Planet Imager — as well as the future planet-hunting space telescopes. The ultimate goal is detection of a second ‘pale blue dot’ — an Earth twin where we could even see the biosignatures of extrasolar life. Such a discovery will truly complete the evolution of our view of the Universe.
Bruce Macintosh is a professor of physics at Stanford University. His research focuses on the study of extrasolar planets using direct imaging and adaptive optics. He is the Principal Investigator of the Gemini Planet Imager, an advanced adaptive optics planet-finder for the Gemini South telescope. He co-led the team that took the first-ever images of a system of extrasolar planets, for which he was awarded the Newcomb Cleveland Prize by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also leads a Science Investigation Team for the coronagraph instrument on the forthcoming Nancy Grace Roman Telescope, that will enable imaging and spectroscopy of even fainter extrasolar planets. Bruce was awarded his PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. He went on to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, first as a postdoctoral researcher, then as a staff physicist. He helped found the National Science Foundation Center for Adaptive Optics and served as an associate director. In 2014 he joined the faculty of Stanford and is now deputy director of KIPAC. Bruce has contributed extensively to the astronomy community and is now serving on the steering committee for the 2020 Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey.