Here’s look­ing at you – OGLE-2013-BLG-0341LBb

Central Leader - - NEWS - By JENNY LING

It’s the newly dis­cov­ered earth­like planet with a rather con­vo­luted name.

OGLE-2013-BLG-0341LBb was found by a team of in­ter­na­tional as­tronomers, in­clud­ing sev­eral New Zealan­ders.

As­tronomer Dr Grant Christie, an One­hunga res­i­dent who works at Star­dome Observatory in One Tree Hill, helped spot the new planet in the Sagittarius con­stel­la­tion 3000 light years away.

The study pro­vides the first ev­i­dence that ter­res­trial plan­ets can form in or­bits sim­i­lar to Earth’s, in bi­nary star sys­tems.

Though it’s too cold to be hab­it­able by hu­mans, there could be life un­der the sur­face, Christie says.

‘‘The ma­jor­ity of stars in our galaxy are bi­nary stars so it wasn’t a great sur­prise.

‘‘But what was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant, around one of these stars we found an earth-like planet or­bit­ing it.

‘‘It’s pos­si­ble that there’s some sort of life form on a planet like that.’’

Four re­search teams, led by pro­fes­sor An­drew Gould of The Ohio State Univer­sity, pub­lished their dis­cov­ery in the July 4 is­sue of in­ter­na­tional jour­nal Science.

Christie was one of four as­tronomers from Mi­croFUN who con­trib­uted ob­ser­va­tions over four nights in April last year.

The oth­ers were Jen­nie McCormick from Farm Cove, John Drum­mond from Gis­borne and Ian Porritt from Palmer­ston North.‘‘Un­til this planet was found it’s been con­tro­ver­sial as to whether earth-like plan­ets with an earth-like or­bit could ex­ist in a bi­nary star sys­tem of this type,’’ Christie says.

‘‘There could be a lot of earth­like plan­ets out there. ‘‘There could be bil­lions of them. ‘‘It greatly in­creases the num­ber of places we can look for earth­like plan­ets.’’

Christie says life forms that could ex­ist on OGLE could be sim­i­lar to those that live around Earth’s un­der­wa­ter vol­ca­noes, that pump min­eral-rich flu­ids into the sea.

They are home to unique and bizarre forms of life like gi­ant tube­worms, shrimp, limpets and clams.

‘‘They get all their en­ergy from chem­i­cals bil­low­ing out of this vent,’’ Christie says.

Christie has been in­volved in as­tron­omy at the Star­dome Observatory since 1967.

OGLE, which is twice the mass of earth, could be in for a name change af­ter the In­ter­na­tional Astro­nom­i­cal Union re­cently de­cided to re­name a bunch of sim­i­lar ex­tra-so­lar plan­ets, Christie says.

Sev­eral of those have been found with help from Star­dome Observatory — and OGLE could be next on the list if the first batch proves suc­cess­ful.

‘‘The com­mit­tee of the IAU will look at names that res­onate with peo­ple and have some mean­ing.

‘‘Once the list is done they will cre­ate a web­site. Any­one in the world can vote.’’

Star struck: As­tronomer Dr Grant Christie was one of four New Zealan­ders who helped dis­cover a new planet.

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