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The search for another Earth

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26 March 2012

An artists impression of an extrasolar planet. Credit: Supportstorm
An artists impression of an extrasolar planet. Credit: Supportstorm

Two decades ago, we didn't know of any planets outside our solar system. Now, people like Professor Chris Tinney are discovering potential new Earths on an almost daily basis. 

Professor Tinney of the University of New South Wales is one of the world's top planet hunters. He will talk about his ongoing search in the next Monash Centre for Astrophysics (MoCA) public lecture to be held at the University's Clayton campus  this week.

The series of free talks features top researchers who explain the mysteries of space to interested members of the public. Audience members are encouraged to ask questions following the talks.

Professor Tinney is a foundation member of the Anglo-Australian Planet Search, which has discovered 30 new planets outside our solar system since 1998. The program also tries to understand how these planets were formed, and to assess their suitability for human habitation.

Professor John Lattanzio, Director of MoCA, said the search for new planets was one of the most exciting areas of astrophysics.

"From a theoretical viewpoint we expected the formation of stars to be accompanied by the formation of planets. It is good to see that the observations are confirming the basic theory. But the sort of planets we found are nothing like we expected! There are some very weird worlds out there,” Professor Lattanzio said.

"We had a great response to the first lecture, by Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt on how the Universe is accelerating its expansion and we're expecting a similar turn out for Chris. Clearly a lot of people are fascinated by the questions that drive astrophysics research." 

The next MoCA lecture, on exploring asteroids, will be delivered by Professor Trevor Ireland from the Australian National University in early May.

Professor Tinney will deliver 'The Search for Extrasolar Planets' at 6.30pm, Thursday 29 March in Lecture Theatre S3, Monash University Clayton campus. For further information, see the MoCA website