Who needs the Hubble Space Telescope ?
A report in Nature (17th December 2009) goes to show that the Sir Patrick Moore’s of this world can still make significant contributions to astronomy, without access to large telescopes and even larger research grants.
The leader of the project team, David Charbonneau, said “Since we found the super-earth using a small ground-based telescope, this means that anyone else with a similar telescope and a good CCD camera can detect it too. Students around the world can now study this super-earth!” Amazingly, the planet was was spotted using readily available tech – an array of small eight identical 16-inch ground-based telescope and a CCD camera called the MEarth (pronounced “mirth”) Project. Charbonneau, is a Harvard professor of astronomy, and lead author and head of the MEarth project.
The planet’s host star, GJ1214 is about one-fifth the size of the sun and has a luminosity only three-thousandths as bright as the Sun. The planet orbits its star once every 38 hours at a distance of only 1.3 million miles. GJ1214b is a super-Earth, a planet sized between one and ten times the mass of the Earth, and measures up at about 6.5 times the size. Although the planet is about three quarters water and one quarter rock, it has an unusually high temperature of about 200 deg C. The planet is predicted to have been around for multiple billion years and the team is concerned that much of the original atmosphere may have been lost because the star’s heat is gradually boiling it off.