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Sri Lanka on an astronomical high



In Sri Lanka's political terrain, national security and the presidential election are the main talks this season, bringing with them a degree of concern. Almost lost in this buzzing is the silent performance of a team of Sri Lankan scientists in space.

Astronomers in the country have spotted two new "exoplanets" or planets outside the solar system, a rare feat in exploring stars and galaxies that put Sri Lanka in a special league. Over the past decade, thousands of files have been searched for data collected by NASA's Kepler / K2 mission. "It was both effort and coincidence," says Mahesh Herath, the 28-year-old scientist who led the team.

Once the Kepler / K2 spacecraft collects data, it will be transmitted to the NASA archives and made publicly available online. "The spacecraft collects so much data that there are not enough scientists to go through everything." In short, Kepler has studied nearly 6,000,000 stars over the course of 1

0 years, but only slightly more than 3,000 have been able to house at least one exoplanet "Herath, a scientist from the Astronomy Department of the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies, said here.

The Institute is largely government funded and conducts research in areas of advanced technology, including communications, IT, electronics, microelectronics, and space technologies Robotics, photonics, and new materials The process that Mr. Herath's team went through seems to be much more effort-intensive than chance – they first had to develop a computer program to look for something that was probably an exoplanet, and then to Automate to search thousands of files. "We did. Searching NASA data with your eyes only takes years to find something concrete. We worked with 30,000 odd records to get here. We started in April last year and shipped our work at the end of December.

Sub-Neptune Planets

The research work of his team, a culmination of eight months of hard work, was adopted by high-level speakers Monthly Announcements by the Royal Astronomical Society, a peer-reviewed journal in the UK, which was released last month , Mr. Herath wrote with two other Sri Lankan scientists and eleven authors abroad about the two exoplanets, which were in the category of the planet "Sub-Neptune".

"It has been a good year for astronomy in Sri Lanka," says Saraj Gunesekera, principal investigator ACCIMT, who, together with physicist Chandana Jayaratne from Colombo University, was part of the team of Mr. Herath. Sri Lanka's first satellite "Ravana-1", designed and developed by the young engineers Tharindu Dayaratne and Dulani Chamika, was launched in June. "And now this observation of exoplanets motivates the few of us involved in astronomical research," says Gunasekara.

After graduating in physics from the University of Colombo, Gunasekara joined the Arthur C. Clarke Institute in 1995 and has since focused on research in the field of astronomy.

What does the sighting of exoplanets involve? Perspectives for more research, says Herath. "We have found that the two [exo] planets are slightly larger than Earth. They could be used for theoretical studies on early planet formation, "says Herath, adding that the two planets are much larger than they should be so close to a star. "We do not know what these special exoplanets are – it could be something between rocky and gaseous – that would be interesting to study."

Last year, a team of Indian scientists from the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad discovered a distant planet six times larger than Earth for the first time. The Indian Space Research Organization announced that the discovery made India one of the "few countries" that discovered exoplanets. And now Sri Lanka is on this coveted list.

While astronomers around the world are exploring more information from the Kepler / K2 mission, more stars and exoplanets could be discovered. Currently, the total number of exoplanets is just over 4,000. "That's less than 0.5% of the available data," says Herath. "Well, there are many, many stars to go through, but not enough people to do that."
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