Volume 92, Issue 60

Thursday, January 14, 1999

incompetence


NEWS

Win some, lose some

Chretien confusion surrounds club

Westminster may become a Western residence

Pigs fly to Canada to help out research

1,200 biz keeners to do gaming

New Earth-sized planet could sustain life

Quickies

Hot Air

Caught on campus

Caught on campus too

New Earth-sized planet could sustain life



By John Intini
Gazette Staff



No one can be sure if extraterrestrial beings are roaming planet 9835, but a group of international scientists are ecstatic over their finding of the Earth-sized planet, which they have said they feel has the potential to support life.

The discovery, presented to the American Astronomical Society this past weekend, is seen as significant since the currently unnamed planet, known only by its code name, is similar in size to Earth. According to researcher Ian Bond, from the Mount John Observatory in New Zealand, there are approximately 20 planets outside our solar system, but none as small as Earth.

"Most of the planets identified are about the size of Jupiter," Bond said. "It is very difficult to identify smaller planets with current technology which makes this find so important."

The technology used to identify the planet, which is 30,000 light years away, is a relatively new technique called gravitational microlensing. The technique is the only one sensitive enough to find an Earth-sized mass, Bond said.

According to Bond, the lens does not even identify the planet but rather keys in on the planet's closest star. When two stars line up in front of one another, a planet can be identified if the light beam which bends around the star in the foreground deviates from the expected bell curve. Bond said the deviation is about one per cent.

"The lenses we use are similar to common digital imaging cameras that the normal public can buy but are much more scientific," Bond said. "We also have some very sophisticated computer resources."

The discovery was made in July in Australia at the Stromlo Observatory which was working together with groups from New Zealand, the United States and Japan.

Phillip Yock, a professor of astronomy and physics at Auckland University in New Zealand, said the technique used to identify this star is a vast improvement on the older Doppler technique. Gravitational microlensing is able to identify planets further away from their parent star.

David Gray, a professor of astronomy at Western, said it is too early for the scientists involved with the project to know if the planet is habitable but said micro-organisms are capable of inhabiting areas with highly strenuous conditions.

"Just recently bacteria was found at the bottom of the ocean in volcanic vents," Gray said. "The boiling water of the vents are areas with no oxygen which shows how life can survive in extreme conditions."

Both New Zealand researchers agreed with Bond's assertion it is impossible based on the distance from Earth to know directly whether or not life or even the necessities of life are present on the planet.

The pair were quick to point out the majority of the research and conclusions were done by scientists at the University of Notre Dame in the U.S..




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Copyright The Gazette 1999