Planet watch

Published: Monday 31 January 2000

For the first time, scientists have been able to "see" another planet outside the solar system. On the night of November 7, the shadow of a planet was observed directly in front of a distant star named HD 209458. The transit was predicted by G Marcy of the University of California and P Butler of the Carnegie Institution, USA, both of whom are well-known planet scientists. Some 25 extra-solar planets had been detected so far, but all the evidence of such planets was indirect, that is, the planet's gravitational effect on the star's orbit was recorded. This time, the transit of the planet in front of the star caused a dimming of 1.7 per cent of its light, just as predicted by the astronomers.

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