A Qatar-led team who discovered a planet orbiting distant stars two years ago expects to find another two planets before the end of the year, the scientist leading the team has told Arabian Business.
The research team has applied to the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) for a US$5m grant to fund a new observation station in Iran or India as it continues its research into finding new planets, said Dr Khalid Al Subai, leader of the Qatar exoplanet survey.
“By the end of this year we should have maybe not only one but a couple [of new planets],” he said.
“We would like to put another station very close by, maybe in Iran or India. They will be continuously survey the skies and that will increase a lot our chances of finding [new planets],” he added.
Al Subai, who led the research team that discovered Qatar-1b, a gas giant 20 percent larger than Jupiter that orbits a star 500 light years away in 2010, said the additional funding will also enable it to pay for three young Qatari graduates to join the research team as they study for their PhDs.
“We have applied for the grant through QNRF, which hopefully we’ll get soon so we can go ahead with our expansion. This will also allow us to train young Qatari graduates to help them get their PhD. We lack qualified human resources in the Gulf so it will allow us to look for discoveries and at the same time build human capacity.”
The Qatari-led team has discovered two planets since starting its research in 2008. The team uses data from Qatar’s wide-angle cameras in the US state of New Mexico to locate the planets from the dip on light from the parent star as its orbit took it between the star and Earth.
Qatar-1b circles its star once every 1.4 days, meaning that its “year” is just 34 hours long. It also spins on its axis once every 34 hours as it is expected to be tidally locked with its star, such that one side of the planet always faces the star.
“The discovery of these planets [doesn’t happen often] and what makes it really interesting is that Qatar is considered the only country researching this topic,” said Al Subai.
Scientists at the Universities of Leicester and Keele in England and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the United States also collaborate with Qatar.