Friday, January 07, 2005

Vega Planetary System

With so many galaxies in our universe, and billions of stars that each galaxy holds, is there a chance that there is a planetary system out there as our solar system and it may have a Earth like planet revolving around it. With a tsunami like that some of you may be wondering what if earth is getting destroyed and we need a different planet. We will have to move. Sounds so sci-fi. So a good start would be to find a planetary system. Many of the DSN and also the Hubble and Chandra X-ray are trying to find such sol systems. One promising star would be Vega . Vega is a star in the constellation Lyra. This star is probably a 350 millions years old. Scientists have predicted a Jupiter and a Neptune sized planet around the star.
They predicted it on the basis of X-ray images of the gas clouds surrounding the star. Its seems to be concentrated around some point at some specified distance from Vega. This pattern can only happen when a planet is revolving around it. So are we relieved that there is some place we can go if Earth is destroyed. Not exactly.
Firstly Vega is some 25 light years away more or less. Mars takes us 4 months. We may die before we reach there. We don't have technology to fly at the speed of light. Technically its not possible because at that speed mass would be infinite.
Secondly we have to find a planet 7.1 Au nearly from Vega. That's the point where an Earth-sized planet should be present. And the biggest problem. Vega is 3 times in mass than the Sun and hotter so it will consume its fuel much faster than the Sun (nearly 650 million years). Consider the Sun is nearly 4.5 billions years old and still at half life. So by the time we reach Vega ( if we managed to) we got to look for alternatives right away. Huh!! Wicked.
But Vega gives us an excellent possibility of finding more planetary systems like ours. A recent scientific technology called gravitaional microlensing has provided us with excellent tool to search for such systems. This can also be used to find far-away galaxies. I will give a description of gravitational microlensing in my next post. Till then enjoy the links for Vega and the Lyra constellation. And also to refresh your memory Vega was the crux of the film "Contact" starring Jodie Foster.


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