This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special
English. I'm Bob Doughty.
I'm Barbara Klein. This week, we will
tell about planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. We will remember a huge disaster that struck
four years ago. And we will tell how
someone you never met can make you happy.
picture that astronomers are creating of our universe has gotten a little more
detailed. Last month, three teams of
astronomers reported making direct images of planets orbiting other stars. Their observations are changing the way space
scientists look at the universe.
Technological progress has made finding planets far from our own solar system common. The first discovery was confirmed in nineteen ninety-four. Today, more than three hundred twenty planets have been discovered beyond our solar system.
To make these discoveries, scientists looked for small movements in nearby stars. The movements show the gravitational influence of another object on the star.
Some planets have been found
because they pass in front of the stars they orbit. This limits the amount of light seen on Earth
for a short time.
is new about the recent observations is that they are direct images of distant planets. That is something astronomers once thought
would never be possible.
team was led by Christian Marois, an astronomer at the Herzberg Institute of
Astrophysics in Victoria, Canada. His
group found three planets orbiting a star called HR Eight Seven Nine Nine. The star is about one hundred thirty light
years from Earth in the constellation, or group of stars, known as Pegasus.
team used the Keck Two and Gemini telescopes in Hawaii to produce the image
showing the planets. The scientists also
used a special technology called adaptive optics.
It changes the shape of a
telescope's mirror to cancel the effects of the Earth's atmosphere. This permits clearer, higher quality images
to be made.
The planets are huge.
Two of them are ten times the mass of Jupiter -- the largest planet in
our solar system. This puts them near
the mass, not of planets, but of failed stars called brown dwarfs. However, there is evidence that supports the
idea that they are planets.
Macintosh of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory helped make the
discoveries. He says all three objects
orbit their star in the same direction and plane -- the way planets do.
A second team announced the discovery of one planet
orbiting the star Fomalhaut.
Fomalhaut is the eighteenth brightest star in the sky. Paul Kalas of the University of California
led a team that used the Hubble Space Telescope to find the planet now called
Fomalhaut b. It took several years of
observations to confirm its existence.
planet is so distant from its star that it takes eight hundred seventy-two
years to orbit Fomalhaut once.
Kalas says Fomalhaut b orbits its star at the inside edge of a huge flattened
ring of ice and dust. This disk is
similar to the Kuiper Belt, which surrounds our own solar system.
after the announcements by the two teams, a French team announced that it had
directly imaged a planet.
Lagrange of the University of Grenoble led a team that used the Very Large
Telescope operated by the European Southern Observatory in Chile. The astronomers found the planet orbiting
Beta Pictoris, a star sixty-three light years away.
planet has not been seen long enough for astronomers to know its orbital
period. But the researchers believe they
have confirmed its planetary nature.
They believe it is about eight times the mass of Jupiter.
twenty-sixth marks the anniversary of one of the worst natural disasters in
recorded history. On that date four
years ago, an underwater earthquake in the Indian Ocean formed a tsunami. The earthquake and waves from the tsunami killed
an estimated two hundred thirty thousand people in eleven countries.
Western Indonesia suffered most from the
tsunami. The waves struck the area about
fifteen minutes after the earthquake.
From the coast to far inland, one hundred forty thousand unsuspecting
people were killed. The event also
robbed Indonesia of valuable land.
major tsunami had been recorded in the area for hundreds of years. But new evidence shows that other such deadly
events may have taken place there long ago.
Recently, a Norwegian scientist reported that
a major tsunami may have struck the Indian Ocean between
six hundred and seven hundred years ago.
Stein Bondevik teaches at two universities in Norway. Two teams provided the information he
presented. His report and their studies
all appeared in the publication Nature.
A team in Thailand reported finding evidence of a
tsunami striking that country a few centuries ago. Kruawun Jankaew works at Chulalongkorn
University. Her team found sand material
that represents a tsunami from six hundred to seven hundred years ago.
The other team was led by Katrin Monecke of Kent State
University in the United States. Her
team unearthed evidence in the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Team members found sand material from the tsunami
in two thousand four. They also found
evidence of three tsunamis from the past one thousand two hundred years. One of these may be the same event that hit
Thailand six to seven centuries ago.
feeling blue? An American study suggests
that being surrounded by happy friends and neighbors could have more of an
effect on your happiness than money.
That is the finding of researchers from Harvard University and the
University of California at San Diego.
Christakis and James Fowler studied the emotional health of more than four
thousand seven hundred people. They used
information from the Framingham Heart Study.
That study began sixty years ago in the American community of Framingham,
Massachusetts. It was started to learn
more about the risks of heart attack and stroke.
the new study, the researchers examined the emotions of the men and women in
the Framingham Heart Study. The
information was gathered from nineteen eighty-three to two thousand three.
researchers found that friends of happy people had a greater chance of being
happy themselves. That means that
happiness spreads, or has a contagious effect, among people. And, the smaller the physical distance
between friends, the larger the effect they had on each other's happiness.
example, a person was twenty percent more likely to feel happy if a friend
living within one and a half kilometers is also happy. Having a happy neighbor who lived next door
increased an individual's chance of being happy by thirty-four percent. The effects of friends' happiness lasted for
up to a year.
was also contagious among friends, but not as much as happiness. The researchers say social groups did not
influence happiness as much as personal situations.
However, people removed by as much as
three degrees of separation still had an effect on one's happiness. The expression three degrees of separation
means the friends of the friends of an individual's friends.
In fact, persons with three degrees of separation had a
greater effect on an individual's happiness than having five thousand
dollars. The researchers say the study
is historic because it shows that social effects on health can be spread among
finding is that people who work together or are married do not have as much of
an effect on happiness levels as friends.
The researchers say this is often true among friends of the same
A report on the findings was
published this month in the British Medical Journal. America's National Institute on Aging helped
to pay for the study.
researchers who were not involved with the study questioned its findings. They say the results could be disputed unless
a separate study shows similar findings.
This SCIENCE IN
THE NEWS was written by Mario Ritter, Jerilyn Watson and Brianna Blake, who was
also our producer. I'm Barbara Klein.
And I'm Bob Doughty. Read and listen to our programs at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again
next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of