Exoplanets: From Detection to Characterization
Exoplanets are almost never visible and thus remained unknown over centuries of astronomical research. In this talk, I will explain how exciting discoveries of new worlds are now made, and surprising aspects of their characteristics are determined. This is accomplished by creative methods and dedicated telescopes on Earth and in space. I will review the observational techniques for studying exoplanets and focus on transits – the passage of an exoplanet in front of its host star. This seemingly simple geometry allows a surprising array of insights: from detailed transit analysis, we constrain the most fundamental planetary properties relevant for the system architecture, theories of planet formation, evolution, composition, global weather patterns, and some day, even biomarkers. The relentless pace of discovery during the past two decades is expected not only to continue but even intensify in the future.