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A team of British scientists has made the first direct sighting of a world beyond our solar system. Using the largest Anglo-Dutch telescope in the Canary Islands and a tailor-made computer program they have managed to untangle the faint starlight of the distant "millennium" planet from the blinding glare of its parent star



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15th December 1999

New Planet for the New Millennium

A team of British scientists has made the first direct sighting of a world beyond our solar system. Using the largest Anglo-Dutch telescope in the Canary Islands and a tailor-made computer program they have managed to untangle the faint starlight of the distant "millennium" planet from the blinding glare of its parent star.

"The signal is very faint, but it tells us that it’s coming from a planet twice the diameter and eight times the mass of Jupiter – a real monster," said Andrew Collier Cameron of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, the leader of the team.

An artist's impression of the Millennium Planet

Clicking on the above image will reveal a larger image suitable for downloading and printing. The large image may take some time to download.

An artist's impression of the Millennium Planet based on scientific data from the research team. The moon in the foreground is imaginary, but it is possible that the planet may have a moon.

This image may be freely used subject to copyright accreditation being given to PPARC. Please note publication of this image is embargoed until 1900 hrs, December 15th 1999. 

Copyright: The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC].

The planet’s parent star, Tau Bootis, is located 55 light years from the Earth. It is easily seen by the naked eye but its planet has only been suggested at before based on the "wobble" in the light coming from the star as the planet travels around it. Although 28 planets have been indirectly inferred using the "wobble" method none have been confirmed by direct detection of their own light until now.

Team member Alan Penny from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Oxfordshire, said "To be one of the first people on Earth to see a completely new planet is an awesome experience, especially on the eve of a new millennium. Our discovery is a major step in finding out what these planets are really like, a step that could lead to finding planets like Earth".

Collier Cameron and colleagues Keith Horne and David James from the University of St Andrews, together with Alan Penny used the 4.2-meter William Herschel Telescope on La Palma, Canary Islands, to detect the planet’s starlight.

"This is a tremendous coup for British astronomers" said Ian Halliday, CEO of PPARC the UK’s strategic science investment agency and funding body behind the team. Halliday added, "UK scientists are continually pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. Cutting-edge discoveries like this endorse our investment in science and technology and highlight our expertise in developing such powerful computing programs".

Commenting on this first visible detection Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science said,

"This discovery was made possible by the innovative work of British scientists. It is exciting to be able to look, for the first time, at the light from a planet outside our own solar system. It is another step in the search for life elsewhere in the Universe."

The team’s results are to be published in the scientific journal Nature on 16 December 1999.

Contact details (Science team):

Dr Andrew Collier CAMERON

E-mail: andrew.cameron@st-and.ac.uk
Tel. +44-1334-463147

Professor Keith HORNE

E-mail: keith.horne@st-and.ac.uk
Tel. +44-1334-463322


Dr David JAMES

E-mail: david.james@st-and.ac.uk

School of Physics & Astronomy
University of St Andrews
North Haugh
ST ANDREWS, Fife
SCOTLAND KY16 9SS

Tel: +44-1334-463111
Fax: +44-1334-463104

Dr Alan J PENNY

Space Science and Technology Department
CLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Chilton, Didcot OX11 0QX

E-mail: alan.penny@rl.ac.uk
Tel. +44 1235 445675

Tel (home): +44 1865 723668

Tel [mobile]:07775 804940
Fax: +44 1235 556667

Contact details (Media relations):

Peter BARRATT
Head of Publicity
Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council (PPARC)
Polaris House
North Star Avenue
SWINDON, Wilts
SN2 1SZ

Tel: +44 1793 442025
Fax: +44 1703 442002
Email: peter.barratt@pparc.ac.uk

Claire GRAINGER

Email: cg24@st-and.ac.uk
University of St Andrews Press and Public Relations Officer
External Relations Department
University of St Andrews
St Salvator's College
North Street
St Andrews
KY19 9AL
Tel +44-1334-462530

Mrs Jacky JC HUTCHINSON

Email: J.J.C.Hutchinson@rl.ac.uk
Press Officer
Administration Department
CLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Chilton, Didcot OX11 0QX
Tel: +44 1235 446482
Fax: +44 1235 446665

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Id 52: For more information about this page contact Gill Ormrod. Last updated 28 September 2000

 

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