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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 1997 > Oct > Oct 26

Re: Zeta Notso Ridiculoso

From: Peregrine Mendoza <101653.2205@compuserve.com> [Peter Brookesmith]
Date: Sat, 25 Oct 1997 23:08:29 -0400
Fwd Date: Sun, 26 Oct 1997 17:17:09 -0500
Subject: Re: Zeta Notso Ridiculoso

The Duke of Mendoza presents his compliments, a revelation, and a
consolation prize.

Equal quantities of egg and chagrin are to be found plastered
temporarily on the Mendoza escutcheon. True, Snowbird, Utah may
not be in The Times Atlas of the World (my 2 minutes' worth of
initial research), although lots of other titchy places are there
all right, but there are  about 14 Websites for the place. Which
gave me an IDEA.

By way of a few stabs at the keyboard I found that Guenter (not
Gunther) Nimtz can be contacted by e-mail. So can Kermit the
Frog, I suspect, but Guenter answered my first query with the
words: "It was not a joke." Having watched "Schindler's List" on
Lady Amarintha's wind-up tee vee the night before, I found this
slightly chilling at first. But Herr Nimtz also offered to send
me a review of his experiments. I said Yes please & fired off a
few additional questions. When I get all this info, I'll post it

I was also pleased to find that the NS has posted on its Website
a copy of its lead review by Ian Morison this week, which is
entirely relevant to this thread, and follows under the dotted

Moral: whatever Freud said, sometimes a cigar is *not* just a
good smoke, and Loy can stop looking sheepish. I'm getting to
work with the egg-scraper. Icky wicky.

Yours &c
Precipitate D. Mistaken
Psychic Detective



     Search the skies

       Planet Quest
     by Ken Croswell,
     Free Press, $25,
     ISBN 0684832526

[book cover of Planet Quest]


FEW areas of research have attracted as much public and
media interest as that covered by Ken Croswell in Planet
Quest--the long and sometimes tortuous path that has
finally led to the discovery of planets orbiting other
suns. Our fascination with this find is, of course, down
to the widespread belief that planets and their
satellites are the most likely setting for the evolution
of life. This is an integral part of the story that
Croswell skilfully unfolds.

We are first given a thorough grounding in the science of
our own Solar System, and reminded how its other planets
were discovered. The abortive searches for Vulcan, which
was believed to be closer to the Sun than Mercury, and
Planet X, thought by some to exist beyond the orbit of
Pluto, are included to help make us aware of the pitfalls
that can occur along the way. We learn how the giant
Jupiter protects the inner planets of our Solar System
from the vast majority of cometary impacts, and so may
allow periods of calm long enough for life to evolve.

The heart of this book is naturally about the first
discoveries of planets around distant stars. Croswell
presents this fascinating story very well. He often
quotes those directly involved in the search, allowing us
to share their feelings as hopes were dashed or tentative
discoveries confirmed.

An apt analogy to convey the fundamental problem of
detecting extrasolar planets is that it is like trying to
observe a glow-worm sitting on the rim of a searchlight.
Astronomers are thus forced to use indirect methods to
infer the presence of a planetary system.

Two such methods have emerged so far. Both depend on the
fact that a planet and its star move in orbits around
their common centre of gravity. The star will have a
cyclic motion as well as its linear movement through
space. The cyclic movement can manifest itself in two
ways. First, the star will follow an oscillating path
that may be detected by astrometric techniques, involving
very precise positional measurements taken over many
years. Second, its spectral lines will show small
periodic changes in wavelength due to the Doppler effect.

The astrometric method has a long history--indeed, the
"wobble" of Sirius was observed in 1844, and its white
dwarf companion star confirmed in 1925. But planets are
far smaller than stars. The deviations they cause in
stars' paths are far smaller than those caused by the
more massive white dwarf star, making reliable detection
exceedingly difficult. Investigators have claimed
detection of several planets using this technique, most
notably two that were supposedly in orbit around nearby
Barnard's star. None of these claims has stood the test
of time. Accurate measurements of very small changes are
also needed for the Doppler method. Here, tiny shifts in
the position of lines in a star's spectrum are the
target, but the accuracy of the measurements is limited,
and this method will not pick out planets much smaller
than Jupiter.

Success, Croswell tells us, finally came from a
completely unexpected direction, as astronomers observing
stars similar to our Sun were refining their techniques.

A neutron star is the remnant of a supernova--a giant
star whose life ends in a massive explosion. The core of
the supernova, with a mass somewhat greater than the
Sun's, has collapsed down to a diameter of just 20
kilometres or so. The collapse causes it to spin rapidly,
and as it rotates it emits beams of radiation that sweep
across space. From Earth, we observe these as regular
pulses of light or radio waves--hence the name "pulsar"
for this type of star. Their actual periods are so
precise that minute changes in the observed period,
caused by the effects of even a small companion planet,
can be detected.

Croswell tells us how Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail
discovered a family of three planets around pulsar
B1257+12. The innermost is just under half the mass of
Mercury, with the outer two around three to four Earth
masses and located at distances from the pulsar that are
similar to Mercury's distance from our Sun.

Planets in orbit around pulsars would be places highly
inhospitable to life as we know it, as they are swept by
beams of gamma rays many times a second. Perhaps this is
why these first extrasolar planets have elicited a rather
lukewarm response from other planetary researchers, many
of whom are driven by the search for the grail of
extraterrestrial life. For them, only planets in orbit
around stars like our Sun are really interesting. It
should not be forgotten, however, that the pulsar
technique is the only one to have shown that planets of
masses similar to the Earth's do exist. It will be a long
time before it will be possible to detect planets of this
mass ranged around normal stars.

The first planet around a Sun-like star has, however,
finally been found. At Geneva Observatory, Michel Mayor
and Didier Queloz use a Doppler technique capable of
detecting Jupiter-sized planets. In September 1994, they
first observed 51 Pegasi, a star in the constellation
Pegasus. By December it was obvious that something
strange was occurring, and further measurements showed
that the motion of the star varied periodically--every
4=B72 days. The size of the variation implied a planet with
around half the mass of Jupiter, but circling the star at
a distance of only five solar diameters. Such a weird
planet worried them. Not until the following October were
they confident enough to announce its discovery.

At this time in California, Geoffrey Marcey and R. Paul
Butler had already built an even more sensitive system,
but one that required considerable computational effort
to produce results. Partly because of this, their search
had not revealed any planets up to that point.

Within a few days of learning of the new planet's
discovery from Geneva, however, Marcey and Butler were
able to confirm its presence and were soon to discover
further planets whose signatures had lain buried within
their observational data. Though most of these planets,
like the one orbiting 51 Pegasi, were very close to their
parent star, one--discovered in orbit around 47 Ursae
Majoris--has a mass around three times that of Jupiter,
and is twice as distant from its star as our Earth is
from the Sun. So for the first time a solar system like
ours was beginning to be revealed.

These techniques are not sensitive enough to reveal
Earth-like planets, but Croswell consoles us by
describing how techniques such as adaptive optics and
infrared interferometry may be able to do so in the
future. It is even possible that, by spectral analysis of
their atmospheres, we might detect the presence of ozone,
an excellent marker for the presence of oxygen, which
could indicate a life-bearing planet.

Croswell ends this excellent book with a 50-page section
containing a glossary of scientific terms used, and notes
linked to each chapter. These give references to an
exhaustive bibliography of papers stretching as far back
as 1860. This section is just one indication of the
detailed research Croswell has put into his book, making
it a joy for any student of the subject. I find it hard
to see how anyone could have done a better job in
bringing this exciting field to the general reader.

Ian Morison is a radio astronomer at the Nuffield Radio
Astronomy Laboratories, Jodrell Bank

From New Scientist, 18 October 1997

=A9 Copyright New Scientist,
IPC Magazines Limited 1997

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