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

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

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


ANCYL: Not voting would be blasphemy

Not voting in the forthcoming elections would be blasphemy, the ANCYL says in a statement commemorating the 50th anniversary of struggle icon Nelson Mandela's Rivonia trial speech.


Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. 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

Samsung Galaxy Note 16GB

GALAXY Note combines the market's largest HD Super AMOLED display,...

From R3899.00

I'm shopping for:


There may be a break through, either through quiet contemplative time to connect to your deep side or forced on you 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.