Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education



Front Page

World

UK

UK Politics

Business

Sci/Tech

Health

Education

Sport

Entertainment

Talking Point
On Air
Feedback
Low Graphics
Help

Friday, May 29, 1998 Published at 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK


Sci/Tech

Question over 'planet' discovery

Is it a planet ... a dwarf star ... or something else?

A scientist from the world famous Royal Greenwich Observatory says Nasa scientists claiming to have found the first planet seen outside our solar system are jumping the gun.


Dr Robin Catchpole casts doubt on NASA's claims
Dr Robin Catchpole believes a lot more work needs to be done before such conclusions are drawn.

The new object, in the constellation of Taurus, was found by the Hubble space telescope.

Nasa believes it may be a planet two or three times the mass of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

Alternatively it could be a brown dwarf star, one that was too small to sustain the nuclear reactions in its core that normal stars need to shine.

But although Dr Catchpole admits that the brown dwarf explanation is feasible, he says more work is needed before further conclusions can be drawn.

"I really don't think there's any evidence to say that what we are seeing here is a planet", he told BBC World Service, adding that scientists needed to use another instrument to determine what sort of light the object was giving out.

A spectrum of the object would tell researchers whether it was hot and luminous like a star or cool and reflective like a planet.

"This one looks far too bright to be reflecting the light of the stars nearby," he said

Although he accepted the discovery had potential, he said: "A lot more work has to be done before it's right to go out and tell everybody you've found a planet."

This could be done with the biggest telescope in the world which this week produced its first pictures of space.

The new instrument built by eight European nations in northern Chile would be able to gather the light, analyse it and tell us exactly what it is made of.

Dr Catchpole believes Nasa's release of the story was symptomatic of an increasing tendency for scientists "to grab the headlines as soon as possible."

He said this was driven by the need to get funding for research and searching for life in other worlds was an area where there was a lot of competition.

"The big question that everybody wants to know about is, is there life out there? Are there planets out there? So the first person who really gets one is going to make a major discovery."



Advanced options | Search tips




Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©


Sci/Tech Contents

Relevant Stories

28 May 98 | Sci/Tech
'Planet' spotted in deep space

27 May 98 | Sci/Tech
A very good look at space

02 Jun 98 | Sci/Tech
Hubble spies a greedy black hole

24 Apr 98 | Sci/Tech
Hubble's birthday picture

23 Mar 98 | Sci/Tech
Hubble sees starbirth





Internet Links

The runnaway planet

Hubble Space Telescope

Royal Greenwich Observatory


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.




In this section

World's smallest transistor

Scientists join forces to study Arctic ozone

Mathematicians crack big puzzle

From Business
The growing threat of internet fraud

Who watches the pilots?

From Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer