Wednesday, January 25, 2006

OGLE Works! Earth-Like Planet Found

It's been all over the news today: The journal NATURE reports a half dozen people from almost three dozen different institutions collaborated on a discovery that will further change the way we look at the Universe; They found an Earth-like planet.

The planet is about 5.5 times more massive than earth and orbits its sun at a far enough distance that the surface temperature most likely hovers around -350 degrees F, but it is rocky, and therefore Earth-like.
No technology or signs of life were detected.

Already more than 150 extra-solar planets have been discovered orbiting stars outside our Solar System. Most of these are large gas giants, bigger than Jupiter, that could not harbor life as know it here on Earth.
But this latest discovery provides not just a new world to examine, but a new technique for finding worlds that are smaller and closer to their sun, like the Earth.
The effect that attracts astronomers is called microlensing and involves the bending of light by strong gravitational forces. Meaning, as seen through their telescopes, a planet will seem to bend the light emitted by a star as it orbits. You can't see the planet, but you can detect the "bending" light.
Astronomers have further refined the technique for detecting this effect using Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE).

This most recent discovery has only proven the OGLE technique as a stroke of joint scientific brilliance, and will surely lead to more discoveries in the coming years...

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