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Weebles wobble and so do stars

Posted by Davbmn on 05/18/06 at 09:08 PM

imageScientists notice wobbling star and discover planets

On Wednesday, an announcement came that 3 planets had been discovered revolving around a relatively close star.  A swiss led team of European astronomers looking at the constellation Puppis, discovered the planets along with an asteroid belt. They measured a wobble in the star, and that meant that planetoids were causing that wobble.

As it turns out the three planets are considerably larger than Earth and the third from the star is 60 times larger than earth but is in the “habitable zone”, where liquid water is possible.  The scientist studying it say however, that it is most likely covered with an atmosphere made up of hydrogen. 

This is the first time a solar system has been discovered using the wobble method, in which all the planets were all in the smaller Neptune-class of planets.  All others have been giants on the order of Jupiter.  This could possibly clear the way for even smaller planets to be discovered using this same method with more refined measuring techniques.  The Europeans have one of the most precise measuring devices for hunting down planets outside of our own solar system.  It’s called The Higher Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), and it is attached to a 12 foot telescope at the European Southern Observatory at La Silla in Chile.

In a search for extraterrestrial life, the hope here is to be able to identify Earth-class planets in another solar system someday.  This discovery would most assuredly pique the interest of the genral public so that more funding would be funneled into space research.  Could you imagine the engagement of interest if an Earth-sized planet in a “habitable zone” was discovered.  We would be trying find ways to get to that planet or get atmospheric reports about it, training listening devices on it, or even sending probes in that direction if it were feasible.

Of course the reality is that it would be generations before we could even think of doing anything, but looking at such a discovery.

Congratulations to the Europeans on this great discovery.  While we’re all waiting on the inventor of warp-drive and univeral translator lets all sit back and enjoy the view. 

Here is the original release from the Eropean Southern Observatory website.

Read this article on the discovery as it appears in the NY Times.

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