Amateur Aussie astronomer discovers faraway planet

Updated 2017-04-20 15:30:50 Xinhua

An Australian amateur astronomer has made a startling discovery, locating a faraway planet with the potential to house interstellar life, it was announced Thursday.

TG Tan discovered the planet, now called "LHS 1140b," using a store bought telescope from his backyard in the Western Australia suburb of Mount Claremont.

He told local media he first discovered his love for astronomy as a child.

"I've been interested in the night sky since I watched the Apollo 11 moon landing as a kid," Tan said.

The new world is one of the best possible chances for scientists to discover life, and Dr. Stuart Ryder, head of international telescopes support at the Australian Astronomical Observatory, said on Thursday, that this process can be quite arduous.

The technique used by scientists to discover if a distant planet has the required conditions to support life is called "transmission spectroscopy," which Ryder said involves waiting until the planet passes in front of its star, and then splitting its light into a "rainbow of colours."

"In that spectrum, we can see telltale absorption bands due to molecules in the planet's atmosphere, if it has any," Ryder said.

Scientists must then wait until the planet passes the star a few hours, or even days later, until the planet is on the other side of the star; and then take more readings to determine the difference in the readings which should show if the planet does indeed have an atmosphere.

"It has to be substantial enough to be able to distinguish it from the fact that the star itself has very hot gasses around it, it is a very challenging observation to make from the ground," Ryder said.

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