Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

Dreaming about the stars, the twinkling night sky, and going where no man has gone before. The last presentation in the "Nobel erklärt" series focused on physics, and also raising very philosophical questions.

Vice-Rector Alberta Bonanni.
Vice-Rector Alberta Bonanni.

Professor Alberta Bonanni very clearly explained how this year's Nobel Prize winners in physics (James Peebles, Michael Mayor and Didier Queloz) succeeded in finding the first exoplanet orbiting a sun. The discovery of Star 51 Pegasi and the Jupiter-sized exoplanet 51 Pegasi B will make us question our current theories about planet formation.

Technically, the star and planet were discovered in the 1990s by a new Échelle spectographer. Michael Mayor and Didier Queloz were the first to show us that when a planet orbits a star, the star’s light spectrum changes. Since then, over 4,000 additional exoplanets have been discovered - and the question is raised time and again: If there are so many planets orbiting a sun similar to our planet, shouldn't there be at least one planet where life is possible?

But even if that is the case, 51 Pegasi is approximately fifty light years away from Earth. A trip from the Earth to the moon takes one light second and Apollo 11 needed three days to travel the distance. A journey to the next exoplanet? Currently impossible, even with everything we know now. Therefore, a view of the stars should help us put things in perspective and show us that – now more than ever before - we have to be more careful with our planet.