Questions for ‘Astronomers may have found first known planet in another galaxy’

image of the Whirlpool galaxy

The spiral-shaped Whirlpool galaxy (left) may be home to the first planet spotted outside our own Milky Way.

S. Beckwith/STScI, the Hubble Heritage Team/STScI/AURA, NASA, ESA

To accompany Astronomers may have found first known planet in another galaxy’  


Before Reading:

  1. What’s the difference between a solar system and a galaxy? Which is bigger?
  2. Imagine a night sky full of stars. Not all of those starlike pinpricks of light are actually stars. Some of are other objects. What other kinds of large cosmic objects make up the night sky?
  3. How many planets are in our star system? In your opinion, how likely is it that other stars might have their own planets? Now consider our galaxy, also known as the Milky Way. The Milky Way contains hundreds of billions of stars, and our sun is just one of those. But other galaxies exist too! In your opinion, how likely is it that those other galaxies might have planets around their stars too?

During Reading:

  1. How many planets have astronomers discovered outside our own solar system?
  2. What is a planet? What is an exoplanet?
  3. According to article, why are planets in other galaxies hard to find?
  4. What does the term “X-ray binary” mean?
  5. Compared to typical star systems, what do X-ray binaries emit that makes them easier to detect? Regarding that emission, what change do astronomers watch for that indicates there may be a planet there?
  6. When reviewing old data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope, astronomers scoured over data from which three galaxies? In which of these did they find a planet-like signal?
  7. If the new planet does exist, how big is it believed to be?
  8. What doubts does Matthew Bailes have about these findings?

After Reading:

  1. Other than Earth, what is your favorite planet? Imagine you visited that planet and even hiked across its surface (if it has one!). Do some research to learn how this planet differs from Earth, and then answer these questions: How might the landscape of this planet look different from Earth? Is this planet hotter or colder than Earth? How might it sound different? And finally, if you could take off your space helmet, how might this planet even smell different?
  2. Use your answers from the last question, and design an alien. Consider that planet’s environment, including temperature, terrain, etc. Then create an alien life-form that might live in those conditions. For ideas, consider animals that live in extreme environments here on Earth. Polar bears, for example. Or desert scorpions. Consider characteristics these creatures have that enable them to live where they thrive. Draw your alien. Then use arrows and captions to explain how the alien’s body parts are adapted for its planet.