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The Search for Exoplanets: What Astronomers Know

There's no place like home ... unless we can find another home in a galaxy far, far away. Let's see how that is working out for us.
The Search for Exoplanets: What Astronomers Know is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 54.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Stunning When ordering this Course, my wife and I wondered whether the presentation would be too esoteric and/or fuzzy. Imagine our surprise when it turned out that JW is a consummate lecturer. His delivery is well-paced and clear, with exceptionally good graphic support. Each concept is easily described, and he has no hesitation in saying that some answers are not known at present. He does employ mathematical equations, but goes out of his way to explain the parameters and the relationship. A basic education in Physics and Mathematics would help, but the equations do not detract from an overall understanding of the concepts being discussed. Although now seven years old, the Course still provides a fascinating insight into the ‘detective’ stories that scientists over the world have investigated in order to expand our knowledge of the Universe. Moreover, their innovations brought to bear on the issues of measuring infinitesimally small readings has been a revelation. Thoroughly recommended.
Date published: 2023-11-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Decent content, boring delivery I slogged through this course and it wasn’t until lecture 18 that I figured out that if I watched on my iPad and mirrored it to my AppleTV (preferred way to watch) that I could increase the playback speed. Currently, the app for AppleTV does not offer this option. This instructor would be excellent at ASMR. Otherwise it’s an interesting topic that was well covered, likely for someone with very little background information which is understandable. At lecture 20, he finally got to stuff I hadn’t heard before elsewhere and gave insight to upcoming missions. It sure was tough sticking with it until then and I did fall asleep during several of the lectures.
Date published: 2023-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly recommended! I have just finished watching Prof Winn's lectures on searching for exoplanets. Prof Winn's diction is clear, his pace of delivery is neither too fast, nor too slow, and the visuals provide great help in comprehending the lectures' contents. The professor explained the various equations in a way that made them accessible also to a non-expert audience. The course is highly recommended to all those who are interested in Astronomy.
Date published: 2023-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great teacher, Great class An excellent course by Prof. Joshua Winn. This is my second with him and this time he focuses on his own research on Exoplanets. Astronomy discovery is moving quickly now, and although set in approx. 2014, this still sets a needed basis for understanding Exoplanet research (It would be great if he could update it for 2023). Wondrium has a series of excellent Astronomy & Astrophysics classes, which have greatly enriched my amateur astronomy work. They take time, some math & note taking helps, but short of enrolling in a University program it has been satisfying, helpful and fun to do. Please add more. Thanks
Date published: 2022-12-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I learned a lot This is amazing subject. I simply had not realized how much we can know, about things that are so far away. The course does a great job of explaining how we can overcome the formidable technological challenges of looking for lumps of rock in the vast reaches of interstellar space. The course includes a good introduction to the basic astromical principles that are needed to understand how exoplanet detection works. Most of the material, however, is about what has been discovered -- and mind-blowing it is. Before I started watching these lectures, I kind-of thought that the very existence of exoplanets was speculative. Seems I was completely wrong, and I'm not at all unhappy to be wrong. Just when you think that the Universe can't get any more mind-bending, someone comes along with something even more amazing. I have a science background, but not in astronomy, and I confess that I found some of the material hard to follow. I would have liked to ask the presenter to explain it again more slowly but, of course, that's not possible here. The only reason I didn't give five stars is that I felt that in places the failing was not entirely mine -- I think some difficult material, that would have needed more math to treat properly -- was handled a little superficially. Still, I would recommend this to anybody with even a passing interest in space.
Date published: 2022-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding and interesting course. I finished this course a couple of weeks ago. I found it very entertaining , easy to follow and informative. I am somewhat above an absolute beginner. I learned alot.
Date published: 2022-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Out of this World Another entertaining Lecture series, Thanks! ………..
Date published: 2022-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Search for Exoplanets As an avid Astronomy fan, I was anxious to watch this lecture on new planets discovered throughout the universe and how that came to be. Great Courses once again. put together a comprehensive lecture that makes the complex easy and interesting.
Date published: 2022-04-28
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Join the search for another Earth in this 24-lecture series that explores the brand-new science of exoplanets-worlds that exist outside of our solar system.


Joshua N. Winn

There are so many reasons to study exoplanets, including exploration, the search for life, the rich physics problem of planet formation, and the technological challenge.


Princeton University
Dr. Joshua N. Winn is the Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. After earning his Ph.D. in Physics from MIT, he held fellowships from the National Science Foundation and NASA at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Winn's research goals are to explore the properties of planets around other stars, understand how planets form and evolve, and make progress on the age-old question of whether there are other planets capable of supporting life. He was a member of the science team of NASA's Kepler mission and is the Deputy Science Director of a future NASA mission called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. He has authored or coauthored more than 100 scientific articles on the subject of exoplanetary science. At MIT, Dr. Winn teaches physics and astronomy and has won several awards for his dedication to his students, including the Buechner Faculty Teaching Prize in 2008 and the School of Science Prize for Excellence in Graduate Teaching in 2013. His talent for communicating science to the general public was honed during graduate school, when he wrote for the science section of The Economist.

By This Professor

Introduction to Astrophysics
The Search for Exoplanets: What Astronomers Know
The Search for Exoplanets: What Astronomers Know


Why Study Exoplanets?

01: Why Study Exoplanets?

Learn about the exciting mission of exoplanetary science-the study of planets orbiting stars beyond the Sun. Review the eight planets in our solar system, which provide a baseline for understanding the more than 1,000 worlds recently discovered in our region of the Milky Way galaxy....

31 min
How to Find an Exoplanet

02: How to Find an Exoplanet

Given the extreme faintness of a planet relative to the star it orbits, how can astronomers possibly find it? Learn about direct and indirect methods of detection. As an example of the indirect method, discover why a planet causes a star's position to change, providing a strategy for locating exoplanets without seeing them....

30 min
Doppler and Transit Planet-Finding Methods

03: Doppler and Transit Planet-Finding Methods

Explore two other indirect approaches for finding exoplanets: first, by measuring the Doppler shift in the color of a star due to the pull of an unseen orbiting planet; and second, by measuring the tiny drop in the brightness of a star as a planet transits in front of it....

32 min
Pioneers of Planet Searching

04: Pioneers of Planet Searching

Chart the history of exoplanet hunting-from a famous false signal in the 1960s, through ambiguous discoveries in the 1980s, to the big breakthrough in the 1990s, when dozens of exoplanets turned up. Astronomers were stunned to find planets unlike anything in the solar system....

31 min
The Misplaced Giant Planets

05: The Misplaced Giant Planets

Investigate 51 Pegasi b, the first planet detected around a Sun-like star, which shocked astronomers by being roughly the size of Jupiter but in an orbit much closer to its star than Mercury is to the Sun. Probe the strange characteristics of these "hot Jupiters," which have turned up around many stars....

30 min
Explaining the Misplaced Giant Planets

06: Explaining the Misplaced Giant Planets

The standard theory of planet formation is based on our solar system. But does this view require revision based on the existence of misplaced giant planets-hot Jupiters circling close to their parent stars? Compare competing theories that try to resolve this conflict....

31 min
The Transits of Exoplanets

07: The Transits of Exoplanets

A tiny percentage of exoplanets can be detected transiting-or passing in front of-their host stars. Combined with Doppler shifts, transits provide information about a planet's size, mass, density, and likely composition. Learn how ambitious amateur astronomers can use this detection technique in their own backyards....

32 min
Sniffing Planetary Atmospheres

08: Sniffing Planetary Atmospheres

Survey the history of spectroscopy to understand how a telescope and a diffraction grating can disclose the composition of a star and its planet. Then learn how transits and occultations are ideal for analyzing planetary atmospheres, paving the way for the search for signatures of life....

31 min
Stellar Rotation and Planetary Revolution

09: Stellar Rotation and Planetary Revolution

Trace Professor Winn's own search for the subtle signs that tell whether a star has a tilted axis. Discover why this is an important clue in the mystery of misplaced giant planets. Also hear how he chanced into the field of exoplanetary science....

30 min
Super-Earths or Mini-Neptunes?

10: Super-Earths or Mini-Neptunes?

Learn how a sensitive new instrument led the way in finding planets smaller than the Jupiter-sized giants that dominated the earliest exoplanetary discoveries. Halfway in size between Earth and Neptune, these worlds have uncertain properties. For clues about their nature, consider how our solar system formed....

31 min
Transiting Planets and the Kepler Mission

11: Transiting Planets and the Kepler Mission

The planet search took a giant leap forward in 2009 with the launch of the Kepler spacecraft, which used the transit technique to observe nearly 200,000 stars over a four-year period. Study Kepler's goals, results, and the persistence of the astronomer who championed it....

31 min
Compact Multiplanet Systems

12: Compact Multiplanet Systems

Dig deeper into the treasure trove of data from the Kepler mission, which discovered hundreds of compact multiplanet systems, with planets much more closely packed than in our solar system. Explore the dynamics of these groupings, which have planets interacting strongly through mutual gravitation....

31 min
Planets Circling Two Stars

13: Planets Circling Two Stars

See how data from the Kepler spacecraft confirms a scenario straight out of the movie Star Wars: a planet with two suns. Investigate the tricky orbital mechanics of these systems. A double star also complicates the heating and cooling cycle on a planet. However, the view is spectacular!...

31 min
Lava Worlds

14: Lava Worlds

Explore the theoretical limit of the smallest possible orbit for a planet, taking into consideration tidal stresses and other destructive processes. Then focus on Professor Winn's search for such objects, which found probable lava worlds-planets heated to rock-melting temperatures by their extreme closeness to their host stars....

31 min
Earthlike Planets

15: Earthlike Planets

Begin your search for planets that may harbor life by studying the conditions that make Earth habitable, including its distance from the Sun, surface temperature, atmosphere, and oceans. Then examine strategies for finding earthlike planets and the progress to date....

31 min
Living with a Dwarf Star

16: Living with a Dwarf Star

The most common stars are class M dwarf stars, which are smaller and less luminous than the Sun (class G). Earth-sized planets are much easier to detect around M-dwarf stars, especially if the planets are within the relatively close-in habitable zone. Explore examples and the prospect for life on such worlds....

31 min
Living with a Giant Star

17: Living with a Giant Star

In billions of years, the Sun will expand into a red giant, possibly engulfing Earth. Learn how planet-finding techniques give astronomers insight into the processes inside giant stars. Then study the planets around these behemoths for clues about Earth's ultimate fate....

31 min
Our Nearest Exoplanetary Neighbors

18: Our Nearest Exoplanetary Neighbors

Pinpoint the location of the nearest exoplanetary systems to Earth. First, get the big picture on the layout of our Milky Way galaxy, its size, and the Sun's position. Also learn why the Kepler spacecraft focused on exoplanets much more distant than those targeted by the Doppler technique....

30 min
Finding Planets with Gravitational Lensing

19: Finding Planets with Gravitational Lensing

Get a lesson in Einstein's general theory of relativity to understand an effect called gravitational microlensing, which allows astronomers to deduce a planet's existence without recording any light from the planet or its host star. This technique reveals exoplanets that would otherwise go undetected....

31 min
Finding Planets with Direct Imaging

20: Finding Planets with Direct Imaging

Turn to the most obvious way to find exoplanets: direct imaging. Explore the optics of telescopes to learn why spotting an exoplanet next to its parent star is so difficult. Then see how this limitation has been overcome in a handful of cases....

30 min
Near-Term Future Planet-Finding Projects

21: Near-Term Future Planet-Finding Projects

The success of exoplanetary science has spurred a wave of new projects to increase our knowledge of worlds beyond our solar system. Survey ground- and space-based programs that are now in the works. Professor Winn gives a preview of a space mission that he and his MIT colleagues are designing....

28 min
Long-Term Future Planet-Finding Projects

22: Long-Term Future Planet-Finding Projects

Peer into the future at ambitious projects that may one day succeed in collecting light directly from an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a nearby star. Examine three different engineering approaches: the coronagraph, interferometer, and starshade....

30 min
The Search for Life on Exoplanets

23: The Search for Life on Exoplanets

Join the quest for life on exoplanets, focusing on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)-a hunt for signals from alien civilizations inspired by a landmark paper in 1959. See how the famous Drake equation points to factors that determine how many such civilizations may exist....

31 min
Coming Soon: Biosignatures, Moons, and More!

24: Coming Soon: Biosignatures, Moons, and More!

Explore the distinctive biosignatures that show the presence of life of any kind on an exoplanet. Then close with Professor Winn's tip sheet on exoplanetary discoveries likely in the near future-from evidence of moons to planets being destroyed by giant stars....

31 min