New Swathmore College Telescope Adds to Searches of Space!

August 23, 2011 at 12:58 AM (astronomy topics, curious research, current news, late night studies, science and technology)

We do know that planets exist beyond what we identify as our solar system.  Astronomers have been searching for extrasolar planets since the mid-twentieth century.  It was during the end of the 1960s when astronomer Peter van de Kamp came to the astonishing conclusion that two planets may exist beyond the then-nine that we recognized!

This scientist who hailed from Denmark was a professional scientist and astronomy professor for over thirty-five years.  Van de Kamp’s fervor for the studies of outer space was found in his understandings of the motions of stars.  He even had a highlight moment during the decade of the 60’s when he publicized an alleged finding of another solar system.

Van de Kamp believed that he had located another system of planets orbiting Barnard’s Star.  This possible solar system is in the area of the Ptolemaic constellation Ophiuchus, which hosts sixty-two counted stars.  Seven of these stars have planets, one of which has been suspected to be Barnard’s Star.  This star is roughly six light years away from our Sun.  It is a red dwarf, not visible from Earth without telescopic assistance.

Van de Kamp worked at The Swarthmore College Sproul Observatory at Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.  This was constructed in 1906, funded by collegiate supporter, Pennsylvania Governor William Sproul.  The observatory houses a twenty-four inch-wide refractor telescope.  This telescope is the first instrument used to capture images of Pluto.

As of now, there are what are being labeled as 573 candidates for planets existing beyond the realm of our solar system.  These extrasolar planets, at present, seem mainly to be gas giants, with some being studied more intensely to learn whether or not they are terrestrial planets.  The world labeled as Gliese 581 d currently is the closest thing that we are understanding to be a world possibly similar to our Earth, while existing beyond our solar system.

The current work of a graduate student from Harvard-Smithsonian Center For Astrophysics has revealed what could be the latest Super-Earth.  As I have heard/read before, these distant worlds supposedly are versions of our Earth, yet on steroids!  They are massive worlds, like Earth, but they are far larger than our home.  Yet, they are not as enormous as gas giant worlds.  Most importantly, nothing has been identified on these worlds that would directly link them with Earth (no dirt, no water, no people……).

Barnard’s Star has been identified as being an elderly star.  It is nearly twelve billion years old, and it rotates slowly!  As a red dwarf, it is smaller than The Sun, and slightly larger than Jupiter.  The worlds that Van der Kamp had located were questioned by astronomers as to whether or not they actually are there!

It was during the 1960s when two Jupiter-sized worlds were suspected to be in orbit of Barnard’s Star.  Van der Kamp suspected that he saw the star wobbling, indicating that it was being pulled by the gravitational forces of orbiting worlds.  His studies went on to produce the possibilities of two planets, Super Earths that are at most 0.7 times more massive than Earth, orbiting this star.  However, studies between 2005 and 2007 are revealing evidence of no planets at this location.

The star that seems to get the most attention for possibly having habitable worlds is Gliese 581.  Located roughly twenty light years away, and within the constellation Libra, Gliese 581 could have six worlds in orbit around it!  One of which is Gliese 581g, which could be within this star’s habitable zone, along with possibly habitable neighbors Gliese 581c and Gliese 581d.  Yet, scientists believe that 581c may have endured a greenhouse effect, rendering the world incapable of supporting what we recognize as life!

The search continues!  Swathmore College currently has dedicated it’s new Peter Van der Kamp Telescope, to assist in the search for worlds and more that exist beyond our Earth.  As well, N.A.S.A. continues running Planet Quest, which peruses the skies for alien worlds that may host life.  Additionally, The Kepler Mission continues it’s voyage, as it was launched in 2009, and it has identified roughly 140 worlds with some similarities to our Earth!



man looking at the stars with a telescope GIF Animation     animated gifs telescopes 2      GIF Animation  of a person at an observatory


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