Qatar’s name is to be written in the stars once more this year, as two new planets discovered by a Qatari-led team of explorers are set to be officially announced in September.
According to the founder of the Qatar Exoplanet Survey (QES), Khalid al-Subai, the programme which discovered the ‘Qatar 1b’ planet last year, has found two new planets to be named ‘Qatar 2b’ and ‘Qatar 2c.’
The programme is an extrasolar planets searching project which employs the transit method, with a team made up of experts from universities including Harvard, St Andrew’s, Leicester, Keele and other institutions.
“We already have one discovery which we announced at the end of 2010,” he said, adding “the good news is that we will have another one, which should be announced mid-September.”
The planets are unrelated to last year’s discovery and connected to totally different stars, he explained.
Al-Subai, who is also director of research co-ordination and compliance at Qatar Foundation’s research division, explained that the official announcement regarding the discoveries will be made later this year.
“When we found one planet, we discovered that it was not obeying normal rules – there was a delay and shift in the orbit that told us there was a second body there,” he said, “therefore we needed more time to follow up.”
Further exploration will be required to determine whether there are other similar planets in this new system, but al-Subai said that the QES team did not wish to
wait before making the announcement.
He explained that the multi-million dollar project, based in New Mexico, would be expanded in the future with attempts to determine whether life is supported on the planets that have been discovered.
If the team can determine what elements are present on the planet, such as methane and oxygen, then they can move closer to establishing whether life could be supported.
Al-Subai is passionate about astronomy, and his love for exploration is immediately obvious when discussing his team’s work.
He claims that this kind of advancement is contributing towards a renaissance in Arab science and technology, harking back to previous achievements.
“If you look at any astronomy catalogue, many of the bright star’s names are Arabic, but unfortunately many people do not know this,” he said, adding “now it’s our turn to come back again and put Arabic names back in the sky.”
Not everyone was as enthusiastic about the QES naming programme, explained al-Subai, who said that his team faced opposition before getting the International Astronomical Union to approve the ‘Qatar 1b’ name.
However, the name stands, and the future of the programme could see it expand into South Africa, Chile, the Canary Islands and even Iran, who have expressed an interest in hosting an exploration site.
“This kind of research has never been done in the Islamic world; we are hoping to collaborate with our neighbours and push forward,” noted al-Subai.
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