Volume 91, Issue 57

Friday, January 9, 1998

on the rocks


Starstruck professor has new revelation about Pegasi

By Joe Jimenez
Gazette Staff

A speckle to the human eye but a wonder to scientists, the star named "51 Pegasi" has been the subject of debate among astronomers over recent years. A Western professor who published a theory on the star last year in a British magazine is now presenting an alternative theory to his own.

The original theory proposed by astronomy professor David Gray, along with co-author Artie Hatzes, an astronomer from the University of Texas, showed evidence that the twinkle of a certain star was due to oscillations of light coming from a star.

This data, gathered using modern technology available to researchers at Western, was published last year in Nature, a British scientific magazine. "Here at the university, we have a spectrograph with a much more powerful resolution [than the one used to observe the star]," Gray said.

Recently, Gray has switched sides due to more conclusive evidence which currently shows "51 Pegasi," which exhibits a twinkle-like property, was actually being affected by the gravity of a large planet causing the star to wobble as originally found before the data done by Gray and Hatzes.

"This new revelation is not a retraction of the old," Gray said. The original theory was based on limited data which was skewed due to noise. Noise is an irregular fluctuation that comes with a transmitted signal and can not be controlled by any researcher, he added.

"It's not that [Gray] was wrong, but rather, [he had] a clever theory based on the information available to him," said North American editor of Nature Laura Garwin. She applauded Gray's efforts, adding it was the best judgement he could have made at the time. Gray and Hatze's new information restores the validity of the original theory, she said.

As for what gets published in the magazine, Garwin said the publication uses two types of criteria to decide what is printed – editorial and technical content. "We decide if the article is interesting or not," she said. Next, the article is submitted to different "referees" who judge its technical merit. "We rely heavily on the referees' decision," she said.

Frederick Keenan, director of international research at Western, said research such as that done by Gray increases the intellectual richness of not only the faculty but the students at a university. "Western is a research intense university which widens the outlook on knowledge and scholarship for everyone," he explained.

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Copyright The Gazette 1998