Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Another World Astronomers Discover Two Planets, Find One May Be `Ideal' for Life

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Another World Astronomers Discover Two Planets, Find One May Be `Ideal' for Life

Article excerpt

Astronomers have discovered two huge planets, only the second and third found outside the solar system. At least one could have a warm, watery "broth," perhaps ideal for life as we know it.

Geoffrey Marcy, professor of physics and astronomy at San Francisco State University, announced Wednesday that one each had been found orbiting the stars 70 Virginis, in the constellation Virgo, and 47 Ursae Majoris, a star within the Big Dipper.

Marcy said at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society that the discoveries open an era in which scientists can oaddress a real possibility of other worlds like the Earth existing around stars other than the sun.

His announcement was made about three months after Swiss astronomers announced discovery of a planet in orbit of the star 51 Pegasi. Marcy and other American astronomers have confirmed the Swiss discovery.

All the discoveries are based on long-term measurement of gravitational variations in the stars. The presence of planets is thought to be the only explanation for the characteristic wobbles that were detected through a telescope at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton east of San Jose, Calif.

Other astronomers said the rapid-fire discovery of planets moves science closer to investigating directly the existence of life beyond the solar system. "What has been left to the imagination is now going to be the subject of scientific inquiry, and there is going to be an answer," said Robert Brown of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

40 Light Years

All three stars orbited by the new planets are within 40 light years of the Earth, and each is about the size of the sun.

Marcy said the planet orbiting 70 Virginis is about nine times larger than Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. The newly discovered planet orbits the star every 116 days. …

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