new worlds to discover

Astronomer Michel Mayor: new worlds to discover
© Arnold Bergherr


by Malcolm Curtis
Geneva – 17 June 2008 | 10:16

Scientists from the Geneva Observatory team have discovered three new planets orbiting around a star similar to the sun. The finding, announced at a scientific conference in France, was made possible by a telescope developed by the University of Geneva that may be capable of revealing new worlds in the universe.

Astronomers at the University of Geneva have discovered three new earth-like planets orbiting around a star beyond our solar system. The discovery of the trio of “exo-planets” was announced yesterday at a conference in Nantes, France, by Michel Mayor, a professor in the Swiss university’s astronomy department.

The planets have a mass that ranges from four to nine times that of the earth. They orbit a star identified as HD 40307 which is similar to the sun and located 42 light-years away. The planets were spotted through a spectrograph telescope designed by the Geneva Observatory in Versoix and deployed at La Silla observatory in Chile.

“We have realized extremely precise measurements of the star HD 40307 in the course of the past five years,” Mayor said in a statement. “In making these measurements we discovered these exo-planets,” he added.
A total of 270 planets outside the solar system have been identified since Mayor and colleague Didier Queloz discovered the first planet circling a star back in 1995. Most of them are much bigger than earth – more similar in size to large planets such as Jupiter or Saturn. But the special telescope, known as HARPS (High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher), is “allowing us to detect continually smaller planets which have a mass ranging from two to 10 times that of earth,” according to Mayor.