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SCIENCE FILE / An exploration of issues and trends affecting science, medicine and the environment. : Scientist Confirms Discovery of Planet 10 Light-Years Away

October 19, 1995| From Times staff and wire reports

An astronomer at Lick Observatory in San Jose has confirmed the existence of a planet orbiting around a star 10 light-years away. Although such a discovery would mark the first known planetary system outside our own, some astronomers remain skeptical of the finding, noting that it would have to circle the star every four days and have a surface temperature of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Swiss astronomers Michel Mayor and Dider Queloz announced Oct. 6 that they found a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting the star Pegasus 51. After the announcement, San Francisco State University astronomer Geoffrey Marcy--who has spent eight years unsuccessfully searching for such planets--headed to Lick on Mt. Hamilton, spent four nights using the observatory's most powerful telescope and announced this week that he had observed it.

George Gatewood of the University of Pittsburgh noted that many previous "discoveries" of planets have been discredited. "The byways are littered with the corpses of [alleged] planetary systems."

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