Sept. 12 - A team of scientists from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Torun are using four remotely controlled telescopes placed around the globe to search for circumbinary systems - multiple transiting planets orbiting two suns. They hope to emulate NASA's Kepler mission, which located such a system last month. Jim Drury reports.
Last month's news that NASA's Kepler mission found a so-called circumbinary planetary system 4,900 light-years from Earth shows the diversity of the galaxy. Called Kepler-47, the system consists of planets orbiting around two suns. It was located by the space-based Kepler observatory, launched in 2009, but scientists here on Earth believe there are many more similar systems still to be discovered, prompting a new European wave of investment in terrestrial astronomy. At the forefront of the research is Professor Maciej Konacki, (pron: Match-ay Konnat-ski), of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He's leading the 'Solaris' team which hope to start explorations next Spring. SOUNDBITE (English), HEAD OF SOLARIS PROJECT, MACIEJ KONACKI, SAYING: "We will use four robotic telescopes placed at three different continents in South America, Argentina, South Africa and Australia. And telescopes are robotic because this way we can observe many stars without much work on the human side." Konacki's team will search 350 eclipsing binary stars - systems consisting of two stars orbiting around their common centre of mass. They will monitor four telescopes placed in South Africa, Australia, and Argentina, the last of which will be fully equipped late this year. SOUNDBITE (English), HEAD OF SOLARIS PROJECT, MACIEJ KONACKI, SAYING: "We have internet connection to every telescope, we have cameras inside the domes of the telescopes, outside of the domes, this way we know what's happening all the time." NASA's discovery of Kepler-47 in the constellation Cygnus came less than a year after they found their first circumbinary planet, Kepler-16b. The findings prove for the first time that more than one planet can form and persist in the region of a binary star. The Kepler telescope and its mission, cost around 600 million dollars. Solaris costs 200 times less, but Konacki is confident his team can produce results as far out of this world as NASAs.