Saturday, September 11, 2004

Telescope Snaps Distant 'Planet'

BBC - Astronomers working in Chile think they may have taken the first direct image of a planet circling another star. The star, called 2M1207, is 230 light-years away and is very much smaller and fainter than our own Sun. The pictured companion is 100 times fainter still and tested the technical limits of the Yepun telescope.

Astronomer Christophe Dumas said: "It is a strange feeling that it may indeed be the first planetary system beyond our own ever imaged."

And Anne-Marie Lagrange, from the Grenoble Observatory, France, said: "Our discovery represents a first step towards opening a new field in astrophysics: the imaging and spectroscopic study of planetary systems...

"Such studies will enable astronomers to characterise the physical structure and chemical composition of giant and, eventually, terrestrial-like planets."...

Working at the limits of its ability, the Yepun telescope was able to obtain a spectrum of the faint red object seen alongside 2M1207. The spectrum showed the signatures of water molecules and confirms that the object must be small and light.

The researchers are not completely certain the object is an associated planet but they believe that further observations will prove this. These observations will take a year or so. In the meantime, the astronomers are referring to the object as a "giant planet candidate companion".

My preference is for research dollars to go toward telescopes more so than manned-missions to the Moon/Mars. Too bad our current pResident disagrees.

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