[CNI News thanks Stig Agermose for sending this story from the BBC, dated December 14, 1997.]
British scientists have used new cameras to find what they say is conclusive evidence of planets circling four of the stars closest to our solar system.
Wayne Holland, one of a team of scientists at Edinburgh's Royal Observatory, was quoted in The Observer as saying: "It's planets, I've no doubt."
The new camera is cooled to within a 10th of a degree of absolute zero (minus 273 Centigrade), enabling it to pick up faint heat emanations from gas and dust particles warmed by stellar radiation. It is mounted on the Observatory's Maxwell telescope, 14,000ft (4,000 metres) above sea level on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
The newspaper said the discovery was bound to lead to speculation that planets were a common feature of our galaxy, making the existence of intelligent life within it much more probable.
The camera probed four stars, Beta Pictoris, Fomalhaut, Epsilon Eridani and Vega.
These stars are all relatively young -- about 200 million years old compared with several billion for our sun -- and are all within 24 light years from Earth.
The scientists reported to Britain's Royal Astronomical Society at a meeting [the week of Dec 8] that each star was surrounded by a vast halo of dust, but the centre of the area was clear of material.
"Easily the most convincing reason" for this finding, says Professor Ben Zuckerman of the University of California, Los Angeles, leader of the survey team, "is that they have been swept clean by planets orbiting near each star."
Original file name: CNI - Planets at 4 stars.final
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