Monday, December 19, 2016

Meet Karen Latchana Kenney







EDITOR'S NOTE: Doesn't it feel as if astronomers are finding new planets every day? Just this September, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope confirmed the existence of a planet that is orbiting two stars in the system OGLE-2007-BLG-349, eight thousand light-years away.
 
So I asked Karen Latchana Kenney (above) to share some thoughts about researching and writing her new Spring 2017 TFCB YA title Exoplanets: Worlds Beyond Our Solar System (cover, top). It's a Junior Library pick, and a well-researched STEM title that schools will want to add to their collections. Here's what Karen says:
 
Seeing the brilliance of a clear night sky in northern Minnesota is breathtaking. The multitude of stars grows the longer you gaze. It’s humbling, just looking at that light.

While researching Exoplanets: Worlds Beyond Our Solar System, I learned how this light is the key to finding planets billions of miles away. Subtle variations of a star’s light tell us how big an orbiting planet is, what’s in its atmosphere, and even what’s inside the planet. I loved learning about the especially strange worlds scientists have discovered. The massive planet TrES-4 was one of my favorites. It has the density of cork. If you stuck it in water, it would float!


TrES-4 (right) and Jupiter (left), size comparison from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TrES-4b

Exoplanet discoveries have exploded since the mid-1990s, when scientists found the first ones. Just in the year while writing this book, the number almost doubled—from close to 1,900 in late 2015 to the current count of more than 3,400. This number changes nearly every day. Readers can find the latest counts by using resources in the book’s back matter.

What’s even more exciting is that exoplanet research will likely lead us to alien life and other Earth-like worlds. Many scientists believe this will happen within the next few decades. We are on the verge of finding another pale blue dot and proof that we are not alone in the universe.
Now when I look up, I don’t just see stars, I see solar systems; and I wonder, How many planets are in each one?

EDITOR'S NOTE: You can learn more about exoplanets at NASA's super-informative exoplanet page. https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/news/

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