New planets are a gas!

PETER Jalowiczor is not sure if he believes in extra-terrestrial life.

Which is strange because Peter Jalowiczor has just helped discover a planet around which it may exist.

Quite a claim for a Rotherham gas worker who has never owned a telescope in his life - but a claim which has been confirmed by a team of astronomical experts from the University of California.

For Peter, of Masbrough, has been named by the centre's Lick-Carnegie Planet Search Team as a co-discoverer of four planets known as HD 31253b, HD 218566b, HD177830c and HD 99492c.

It was the hours he spent analysing thousands of figures of space data - all in his spare time, all on his two home PCs - which provided the clues for scientists to establish the existence of the huge gaseous orbs.

"It overwhelms me when I think about it," he says. "I've always been interested in astronomy and I have two science degrees but to be one of the officially recognised finders of these planets is just...I get lost for words."

Here's the science bit: in 2005, astronomers at the university released millions of space measurements collected over several decades and asked enthusiasts to make of them what they would.

Quirks in the data could signify the existence of exoplanets - that is, planets in other solar systems which cannot be seen with even the most powerful telescope because they are so far away.

From March 2007 Peter, 45, spent entire nights reading the data, working the figures, creating graphs.

THE PLANETS IN NUMBERS

HD 31253b - 466 days in its year - 172 light years away

HD 218566b - 225.7 days in its year - 98 light years away

HD177830c - 110.6 days in its year - 190 light years away

HD 99492c - 4,697 days in its year - 58 light years away

"Essentially you're looking for measurements which show a star, which is millions of miles across and light years away, to be oscillating by about 50 metres or less," the father of one explains.

"The measurements are so tiny, it puts many people off looking - even professional astronomers - but I find it fascinating."

He then sent discrepancies he discovered back to the scientists in California where they were further analysed to see if the quirks were caused by the existence of an exoplanet.

"To put it in context, only 515 have ever been confirmed.

Peter again: "I sent about 40 suggestions before they got back to me saying 'This one is interesting, we think this is a planet'.

"After that we built up a relationship and three others were confirmed - but when they offered me the chance to be recognized as a co-author of the final paper I was just stunned."

And about that extra terrestrial life?

"HD 218566b is in what's called the habitable zone of its solar system," says Peter, a member of Mexborough and Swinton Astronomical Society. "Because it is a gas planet, it is unlikely it could sustain life itself but it's possible there is a moon circling it which could.

I don't think about that too much. It just excites me the planet exists at all."

Got a view? Leave a comment below.

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