SA helps in exoplanet hunting

2011-03-09 07:02
The Southern African Large telescope has brought some prosperity to Sutherland. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

The Southern African Large telescope has brought some prosperity to Sutherland. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

  • NASA
    The USA accelerated the space race in 1958 by forming NASA. Eager readers will learn about the... Now R441.00
    buy now
Cape Town - South African astronomers are involved in the discovery and analysis of possible exoplanets several light years away.

Nasa recently announced that the Kepler telescope found several planets orbiting distant stars, suggesting that exoplanets are more common than previously thought. But analysis of these bodies is difficult and researchers from around the world are assisting in the analysis.

"After only four months of operation, the Kepler team announced the discovery of over 1 200 new candidate exoplanets - a lot of work will be required to follow up and be sure they really are planets since there are several ways that observational data from non-planetary systems could mimic those from planetary systems," SAAO astronomer Dr John Menzies told News24.

He said that the Southern African Large Telescope (Salt) in the Northern Cape province would be critical to the identification of exoplanets when it receives a spectrograph this year as well as the UK-operated superWASP and KELT from the US which are both based in Sutherland.

Gravitational microlensing is also used to find distant planets but requires long observations conducted by a collection of telescopes around the world.


"Sutherland is situated about half way between Australia and Chile, so is a vital node in the PLANET collaboration's observing programme; this collaboration has been operational since 1995.

"This technique finds planets that are significantly further away from their parent stars, and is the only ground-based method of finding earth-mass planets orbiting several astronomical units (distance of earth from Sun) from the parent star," said Menzies.

He would not rule out life being able to exist on planets that may be regarded as unsuitable for life as we understand it on Earth.

Recently, Nasa scientist Richard Hoover made a claim that alien microbe fossils were found in meteorites on Earth. The agency though, has distanced itself from the findings.

In December, Nasa has announced the discovery of a new bacteria that can grow and incorporate arsenic into its DNA.

"We have had this idea that life requires these six elements with no exceptions and here it turns out, well maybe there is an exception," said Ariel Anbar about the discovery.


"In simple terms, life as we understand it is carbon-based, and could exist wherever the ambient temperature allows water to exist in liquid form and the gravity to be sufficiently high to retain an atmosphere; so yes, it would be possible for it to exist on moons of planets," said Menzies.

He said that the hunt for exoplanets has been accelerated with the Kepler telescope and scientists focus on cooler stars as they were more likely candidates for life to exist.

"With the Kepler experiment, there will be a revolution in our knowledge of exoplanet statistics - in about 20 years just over 500 exoplanets have been found from the ground compared with over 1 200 in four months from Kepler."

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
- News24
Read more on:    nasa  |  saao  |  astronomy

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


The truth about painkillers and exercise

Many of us use painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicines to mask pain so they can continue with their training.


Where were you when you last felt alive?

Where were you when you last felt alive?
Watch: Fishing under ice
This all-terrain vehicle is badass!
This is why you need to get fit in your 20's

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

Lead Architect / ASP.NET Specialist

Cape Town
E-Merge IT Recruitment
R350 000 - R450 000 Per Hour

Recruitment Consultant

Cape Town CBD
Communicate Cape Town Engineering
R120 000 - R650 000 Per Year

Financial Manager

Cape Town
Communicate Cape Town Finance
R500 000 - R700 000 Per Year

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now! - shop online today

Deal of the week!

Save R1200 on the Samsung 48” smart full HD LED television now only R8799. Buy now!

Toys 4 for the price of 3

Buy 4 toys and get the cheapest FREE! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Mind blowing prices – As seen on TV

Get mind blowing prices on 1000’s of products! Shop now.

Save 20% on Nivea beauty products!

Buy any two Nivea beauty products and save 20%. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R1000 on electronics!

Get mind blowing savings on top electronic products. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25


You may be spending too much time organising and trying to control things to make sure everything is perfect instead of more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.