Astronomers find 'super-Earths' | NEWS.com.au
RESEARCHERS today said they discovered a batch of three "super-Earths" orbiting a nearby star, and two other solar systems with small planets as well.
They said their findings, presented at a conference in France, suggest that Earth-like planets may be very common.
"Does every single star harbour planets and, if yes, how many?" asked Michel Mayor of Switzerland's Geneva Observatory.
"We may not yet know the answer but we are making huge progress towards it," Mr Mayor said in a tatement.
The trio of planets orbit a star slightly less massive than our Sun, 42 light-years away towards the southern Doradus and Pictor constellations.
A light-year is the distance light can travel in one year at a speed of 300,000km per second - or about 9.5 trillion kilometres.
The planets are bigger than Earth - one is 4.2 times the mass, one is 6.7 times and the third is 9.4 times.
They orbit their star at extremely rapid speeds - one whizzing around in just four days, compared with Earth's 365 days, one taking 10 days and the slowest taking 20 days.
Mayor and colleagues used the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher or HARPS, a telescope at La Silla observatory in Chile, to find the planets.
More than 270 so-called exoplanets have been found. Most are giants, resembling Jupiter or Saturn. Smaller planets closer to the size of Earth are far more difficult to spot.
None can be imaged directly at such distances but can be spotted indirectly using radio waves or, in the case of HARPS, spectrographic measurements. As a planet orbits, it makes the star wobble very slightly and this can be measured.
"With the advent of much more precise instruments such as the HARPS spectrograph ... we can now discover smaller planets, with masses between 2 and 10 times the Earth's mass," said Stephane Udry, who also worked on the study.
The team also said they found a planet 7.5 times the mass of Earth orbiting the star HD 181433 in 9.5 days. This star also has a Jupiter-like planet that orbits every three years.
Another solar system has a planet 22 times the mass of Earth, orbiting every four days, and a Saturn-like planet with a three-year period.
"Clearly these planets are only the tip of the iceberg," said Mr Mayor.
"The analysis of all the stars studied with HARPS shows that about one third of all solar-like stars have either super-Earth or Neptune-like planets with orbital periods shorter than 50 days."
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Monday, June 16, 2008
» 11 places you should definitely try to see on a round the world trip :: Around the World Airfare :: Round The World Ticket
» 11 places you should definitely try to see on a round the world trip :: Around the World Airfare :: Round The World Ticket
1 - Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil
It’s hard to classify the appeal of watching water rapidly changing elevation en mass, but for one reason or another nearly everyone who visits the Iguazu Falls finds it stunning and very worthwhile. Globally speaking, these falls are far more impressive than Niagara, and their only rival is Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and that one is far too out of the way for most RTW travelers. There are actually 270 separate falls spread over 2.7 kilometers of curving forest, so the number of unique views of the falls is almost endless. Iguazu is spread between Argentina and Brazil, with each side having a very impressive and different national park from which to take in the views, and there are speed boat rides through the falls, among other things, located down below, so spending most of a day at each park doesn’t get old as quickly as you might fear.
Travelers counting countries also get a bonus as the falls are where Paraguay meets Argentina and Brazil, and short forays into that landlocked country are possible during your visit. You can reach the Iguazu Falls area on long bus rides from anywhere in the region, and also on short and cheap flights from Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro. Package deals including a flight, hotel, and tours of both parks are quite affordable.
2 - Machu Picchu, Peru
The Lost City of the Incas is something of a backpackers’ cliché at this point, but it’s hard to find past visitors who regret stopping off at one of the planet’s most famous checklist attractions. In case you haven’t heard by now, there are no roads that reach Aguas Calientes, which is the charming town at the base of the mountain. Your choices are either a 2 or 4-day hike along the famous Inca Trail, or a 5-hour train journey that leaves from Cusco each morning. If you are in a hiking mood you should investigate and probably book your trek well in advance since space each day is limited to 500 people. For people considering arriving by rails you can usually book the trip the day before at any one of about a thousand Cusco travel agencies.
No matter which method you will try, you’ll be leaving from the ancient Incan capital city of Cusco, which is actually at a significantly higher altitude than the Machu Picchu mountaintop itself. This makes it an ideal place to acclimatize to the altitude before the trek, but also reason to take it easy for at least your first day there. Fortunately, Cusco is an excellent, fun, and beautiful city on its own. There are many other worthwhile attractions nearby, and the nightlife and restaurant scenes are surprisingly good too.
3 – Tikal, Guatemala
If you are going to see just one set of Mayan ruins in your life, you might as well make it the largest and grandest of them all. Located in northern Guatemala within the boundaries of the Tikal National Park, these amazing ruins have been discovered deep in a rainforest, and only a small percentage of them have been uncovered at this point. Tours start early in the morning, and one highlight is being serenaded by the many howler monkeys who live in the trees above you. The “howl” is really more of a roar, and is a sound you won’t soon forget.
To visit Tikal most people either take a short flight from Guatemala City or a half-day bus ride from Belize City. The ruins are about 30 kilometers from the small town on an island lake called Flores, which dates back to the 13th Century, has quite a few cheap hotels, and is a great attraction unto itself. The larger town of Santa Elena is just across the causeway from the island, and it has some even cheaper accommodations, but is far less charming.
4 - Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
There are quite a few good pyramids in this part of Egypt, but the Great Pyramids of Giza really do live up to their name. It would be unforgivable to go anywhere near Cairo and miss seeing them in person, and thanks to an endless army of tour guides and touts, skipping this short trip is much more challenging than actually going through with it. Since about 99% of the photos you’ll ever see of the pyramids and the Sphinx are taken from the same side, most people assume they are located well out into a barren desert, but in reality they are right on the edge of the huge city of Giza, which is just across the Nile from Cairo. You can clearly see them from the freeway as you approach, and there are fast food restaurants located just outside the entrance.
Visiting the pyramids can be done effectively in half a day or so, especially since they are located only about 25 kilometers from central Cairo. When you get to Cairo you’ll be relentlessly harassed by touts who will offer to arrange a driver or guide for you and hook you up with other area sights and tours. Fortunately these tours are usually cheap and legitimate, but the process of choosing one can be maddening. Prefab tours also leave from some Cairo hotels each morning for those who prefer to be part of a larger group.
5 – Petra, Jordan
Most who visit Jordan find it to be a delightful introduction to the mysterious Middle Eastern culture that seems so menacing for those who only focus on newspaper headlines. This ancient city built into pink rock formations is only one of the many highlights for those who take the trouble to visit this relatively calm part of a troubled region. The standard tour of Petra takes most of a day, and there are plenty of add-ons available like renting horses or mules to help take some of the load off on what is otherwise a strenuous tour.
You can get to Petra as part of a tour after landing in Amman, which is about 3 hours away by car. You can also reach Petra from Israel, so those who include Jerusalem on their trip can skip backtracking to Amman and see more of the acclaimed scenery in the area.
6 – Rajasthan, India
Most who visit India have seeing the Taj Mahal at the top of their list, and as understandable as that is, it’s a huge shame if people zero in on that one palace in Agra, just a bit south of Delhi, and ignore this region that is filled with mysticism, camels, forts, temples, and a blinding array of bright colors. Rajasthan is the largest state in this huge country, and it’s also home to much of what people picture when they think of “exotic India.” Stop off in the capital of Jaipur for a mind-blowing urban experience, but also be sure to spend some time in one or more of the small towns. The extremely holy village of Pushkar is popular with backpackers, especially those willing to trade access to the spiritual aid of a famous bhang lassi for any possibility of finding alcohol or meat.
You can fly into Jaipur, Jodhpur, or Udaipur from any of India’s larger cities, or you can arrive on the country’s well-known train system, which is probably more luxurious than you expect as long as you spring a bit more for one of the still-cheap upper classes of service. There is also cheap, almost-daily bus service that connects all the points of interest, so as long as you do a bit of research you’ll find getting around to be quite easy and affordable. There are a few international-class resorts in this region, but aside from those you’ll find hotels and food to be amazingly cheap.
7 - Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Spending part of your holiday in Cambodia isn’t an obvious choice, but it’s a must for anyone heading into Southeast Asia. Angkor Wat is actually just one of the 12th century temples that make up this huge and mind-blowing complex. You can, and probably should, spend a whole day seeing this popular site, but it tends to be very crowded in the middle of the day so it’s recommended to go early or late, as the sunrise and sunset over the main temple is a magical experience for those lucky enough to witness it.
You can reach the town of Angkor by flying into Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh, or you can fly directly into Siem Reap, which is about 5 kilometers from Angkor, and the second busiest airport in the country. There are plenty of 5-star hotels in the area, but plenty of low budget hotels and guesthouses that are ideal for the backpacking set.
From Bangkok you can book package tours that include Angkor Wat along with flights or various forms of overland transportation.
8 - Great Wall of China
A stop in Beijing gives you a close-up look at one of the world’s most important cities, past and future, and it also takes care of two huge highlights for almost any traveler. The Forbidden City is a worthwhile stop on your visit, although it does tend to look pretty much how you expect it will. Seeing the Great Wall requires getting out of Beijing, but only by 70 kilometers or so. The Badaling section is the closest to the city, most crowded by far, and also breathtaking to see. You can get there on a tourist bus or as part of a private tour, but if you want a chance at some solitude there are many other sections.
The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is only a bit farther away, and yet it gets far fewer visitors. You can easily combine a visit to this snaking section of the wall with a visit to the Ming Tombs on a day trip. If you’ve got more than a couple of people interested you might consider hiring a private guide and car, which will help you avoid the crowds even more, and it won’t break the bank.
9 – Bali, Indonesia
You’ve no doubt heard deafening raves about Bali from all who’ve gone before you, and a stop there on your RTW is the ideal time to find out what all the fuss is about. This small island is one of over 17,000 that make up Indonesia, and yet it has several elements that make it as unique as it is magical. Most of Bali’s over 3 million inhabitants practice their own form of Hinduism, which is a stark contrast to the Islam practiced by nearly all the rest of the country. The traditional morning offerings consisting of flowers, incense, and other items in leaf baskets can be seen everywhere you go, and also help add exotic fragrances to the pleasant assault on your senses.
Bali is usually reached by cheap flights from all over the region, although ferry service from the larger island of Java is possible as well. Flights land at Denpasar Airport, which is near the capital city and also near the infamous Kuta Beach area. Aside from being the site of the tragic bombings in 2002, Kuta is also known as a hangout for surfers and the party crowd. It’s worth seeing, but it’s the least amazing part of the island by far. Be sure to visit the art village of Ubud, and also to tour other parts of the island to really get the full experience. You can hire a driver and a van for a small sum, which will enable you to visit many ancient temples and see the stunning rice terraces at your own pace. Rooms in simple guesthouses can be found starting at around US$5 per night, and food and drinks tend to be amazingly cheap as well.
10 - Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Seeing the largest collection of living things on the planet is understandably high on the list for any visitor to Australia. If you are a scuba diver then you are all set, but if not you can snorkel, fish, or fly over it, or even see many of the wonders through glass bottom boats and platforms. Most visitors concentrate on the Marine Park not far off the coast of Cairns, but those with more time and/or money have nearly infinite other opportunities to visit less popular sections or some of the spectacular islands in the region.
The best way to get to Cairns is to fly, since the distances from anywhere else interesting are great, and the scenery on the ground is not too spectacular. Fortunately, there are plenty of relatively cheap flights to Cairns available from all major Australian cities as well as major airports throughout Southeast Asia.
11 - New Zealand
This one is easily worth a special trip there from home, but if you are flying between North America and Australia it would be almost criminal to pass up a visit to New Zealand on the way. It’s hard to describe why people go on and on about their love of Kiwiland, especially as this pair of islands totally lack a checklist attraction that most people have heard of before they arrive. Auckland itself is actually a large city that isn’t as charming as you might expect, but it does make a fun place to stay for a day or two on your way in and/or out of the country.
There are regular backpacker buses that are always jammed with visitors going between all the major cities and attractions, so drifting around is quite easy. If your budget is a bit higher you might consider renting a car or campervan to take advantage of the hundreds of holiday parks all over both islands. The North Island has much to offer, and the hot springs of Rotorua are a highlight for most people, but the South Island gets most of the raves, so a flight there or a ferry trip down from Wellington is a must if you’ve come this far already. There is ever-changing dramatic scenery with each corner you turn, and don’t miss stopping at one of the two glaciers, and especially don’t miss staying at least a night in the lovely city of Queenstown (pictured).
MensHealth - Great sex
If men weren’t great explorers, we never would have found the Cape, Victoria Falls, or scrambled porn on channel 99. So why should our entire sex life always take place in the same spot? Nothing against the 2-by-1.5-metre package of coiled springs you’ll be bouncing on tonight, but we believe every man should act on his inherent urge to conquer new territory. The benefit: a sex life with more imagination is one with more satisfaction. So here’s our list of the world’s 31 best places to fool around. Try some of our suggestions (discreetly, please; bail isn’t in our budget). Or just use them as inspiration to make a list of your own.
The Standard Hammock is 2.5 metres long, and is woven from the finest cotton that easily holds the weight of two bodies. The specially-designed suspension system comes with built-in shock absorbers – so be as adventurous as you like! The hammock adapts to your shape and there’s enough room for a couple to lie crosswise, thereby reducing your chances of tipping over at the worst possible time. Call Zenpoint on (021) 462 1064 or check out www.zenpoint.co.za.
There’s no need to try cramped bathroom sex when you’re flying business class on British Airways. Some planes feature ‘fully flat bed’ seats – which, as promised in the promotional material, will ‘allow you to get completely horizontal’. The seats are arranged in pairs so one person’s head is at another person’s feet. (Could this get any better?) Eventually, the seats will be available in the entire fleet, but they’re currently only on planes to and from New York. It’s as good a reason as any to travel, we think. For more information and reservations see www.britishairways.com. Please use the privacy screen.
Though we can think of several hundred kinky things to do with a calf-raise machine, our vote for the most sexual piece of fitness equipment is a large Swiss ball. Why? The ball can actually help improve your depth of penetration, if you’re in the right position. Try this: sit on the ball and have her straddle you, facing away from you. Hold her hips for balance, and use the rocking motion of the ball to thrust in and out of her from behind. Do one set of at least 50 repetitions. Be courteous: wipe your sweat off the ball when you finish your set.
Spare yourself the embarrassment of shopping for leather chaps and cheerleader outfits and having to check into a seedy motel. Just fulfil all of your fantasies at the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton. The arches, columns and marble additions echo the rennaissance style of the restaurants and cafés in the adjacent Sandton Square. Your thoughts will be provoked into fantasies of an era of opulence and blatant eroticism. Check out the hotel at www.michelangelo.co.za
Laundry day will never be the same again. Next time you do a load, position her on top of the machine. She’ll dig the vibrations and you’ll gain a new appreciation of the term ‘housework’.
If the missus likes to vocalise, pitch your tent in the Golden Gate National Park in the Drakensberg, where more than
10 000 hectares of mountainous highland leave little risk of waking the neighbours. Short nature trails of one to five hours provide a diversity of backdrops to suit every mood.
And with the warmth of the red and yellow mountain hues falling on you, you can snuggle up and indulge in some
serious game life. For more information on the park call
(012) 343 1991 or visit www.parks-sa.co.za.
Room in the house
We like having sex on the stairs – not only because it’s a great workout, but also because of the dark stairwell. Try a doggie-style position with her a few steps above you. Her skin and breasts will brush against the carpeted steps (she’ll like that). You’ll like the strong upward thrusts you have to make to stay connected.
Room where you can hide
The walk-in wardrobe. If the door opens in, lean back against it (that’ll keep nosy kids from prying it open). She climbs on top of you – you can support her weight by holding her under her thighs or under her arms. If your door opens out and the kids do find their naked parents, your alibi is easy and believable: “We’re trying on new clothes.”
Room in someone else’s house
Our favourite no-getting-caught spot at a friend’s party: the garage. Offer to pick up more beer, then slip out the garage door. Nobody will think anything of your being away for 20 minutes, and you can always hide between the two cars if you hear someone coming.
Tip Get her to wear a short skirt and no underwear to the party. Quick access makes it easy for you to get into the situation. And easy for you to cover it up if necessary.
Try having sex in the garden. Not only does it save travel costs, but you’ll also feel adventurous, even though there’s little chance of getting caught – unless you get too carried away and disturb the Jones’s next door.
Clothing store changing room
Sex expert Laura Corn told us her trick for doing it in a private spot in a public place: she asks the saleswoman if her partner can go into the dressing room to make sure he likes what she’s trying on. Corn’s experience: the saleswoman always says yes.
Working late has never been so appealing! After everyone’s buggered off for the day, sneak your partner up the fire stairs and indulge in some hot and sweaty overtime (worth noting: ergonomic chairs have some very interesting uses). If you’re really daring, try out the boss’s desk. But watch out for security cameras – unless you’re into that sort of thing.
Your best back-to-nature love shack is the four-man Ferrino Savanah Junior. You’ll love the high ceiling and ample space, so you can stand and deliver. Made out of nylon, it’ll weather all sorts of conditions. Available at Outdoor Warehouse outlets nationwide. Check out www.outdoorwarehouse.co.za.
Part of a golf course
Always go for hole five, six, 13 or 14. They’re the furthest from the clubhouse, which reduces your risk of being caught by gopher-trolling superintendents. The greens are the softest places, but you’ll want to use a blanket because courses are usually smothered with pesticides. Try explaining that to your urologist.
After hiking 12 kilometres into Hawaii’s Waimanu Valley, don’t linger on the black-sand beach. A wild-pig trail leads up-valley through groves of wild guava to postcard-perfect Waiilikahi Falls. There, you’ll see how the water pulses through a cleft high in the black volcanic rock, cascading through a hundred tiny rainbows into a pool that’s so dark and seductive you’ll probably need snorkel gear to accomplish what she has in mind.
For somethng a bit closer to home, visit the Howick Falls in KwaZulu-Natal. Rainbows are reflected in the pulsing water which drops more than 95 metres from the Mgeni River. The white-laced spray makes a spectacular dreamland covered by thick mist. But don’t linger on the viewing platform. Get your gear off and splash out in the deep pool under the falls. The thundering water will be enough to drown out even the most frantic screams of pleasure, you big stud, you.
If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, the spectacular 360-degree view from the top of Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch will take your breath away before you’ve got your trousers off. The initial walk will be enough to earn you a shag – if you’ve still got sufficient energy.
Imagine the rhythmic rocking of a train bulleting into the night, with you and your partner holed up in a cosy sleeper cabin. If that doesn’t get the hormones flowing, nothing will. The Blue Train travels between Cape Town and Pretoria, and up to the Victoria Falls. Tickets include all services, meals and drinks. Costs vary, but for a romantic getaway, at least it’s a little more private than the all-stations 7.35 to the city. Visit www.bluetrain.co.za.
Cruise around town and cause a commotion both inside and out with the eight-seater limo from SA Limousines. This all-time classic comes with free champagne, CD player, full-leather upholstery and red carpet treatment. Prices vary with length of time. Call (011) 882 2046.
“Everybody fantasises about having sex in an elevator, and the most common place people make that fantasy come true is in hotels,” says Patricia Love, author of Hot Monogamy. Still, keeping in mind alarms, video cameras and pubescent tattletale bellhops, we’d prefer you didn’t get snagged. Instead, try a freight elevator. It won’t have an alarm, and you can stop it between floors for more privacy. One foolproof option for slipping by undetected: nurse the fantasy until you and your partner are helping a buddy move into a new apartment. Pack the front and sides of the elevator with boxes, leave the middle clear.
For the professional bachelor we recommend cities where you’ll find masses of unattached ladies, which means you should schedule your next trip to Cape Town. You’ve all heard the seven-to-one ratio story – plenty of lovely-looking ladies all looking. Durban is a good bet for those in search of all-year-round Baywatch beach life.
Libraries generally contain endless rows of dusty, forgotten shelves that are perfect for a quickie (avoid varsity libraries for this reason – too crowded). Try your local library instead and go for an obscure section, like ornithology. To add a touch of fantasy, get her to wear spectacles, a demure expression and her hair in a bun. Note: not a good idea if she’s a screamer.
To get your favourite gymnast in the sack, zip two of First Ascent’s Ice Breaker sleeping bags together. These down-filled cocoons have elastic ribbing so you can comfortably bob, squirm and wrestle into any position. But they still hug your curves so closely that frosty drafts won’t sneak in. That’s handy when she attempts the double reverse layout with a half twist. Available at Outdoor Warehouse nationwide. Tel: Cape Town (021) 948 6221/Gauteng (011) 792 8331 or check www.outdoorwarehouse.co.za for more info.
Twin’s Cave on Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg is the ideal place to get lost for a night. Listed as one of South Africa’s ‘Ten good caves to sleep in’ it is one of the biggest caves in the Drakensberg. There’s more than enough room for exploration and the golden sunrises will make your magic last. Well, we hope.
If you really must do it on a bed, try the Sealy Regal mattress which has almost double the number of springs than the average mattress. The firm, durable fabric makes it appropriate for wild-sex couples while still offering a soft, comfortable ride with it’s duralite foam which ‘wraps your body in luxury’. Just the right combination, we think. It’s available from all major stockists, or call Sealy’s toll-free number on 0800 016 335.
Though the merry-go-round has the most potential for dizzying sex, the swings are your best bet for pure sexual satisfaction, without the inner-ear imbalance. Both of you should kneel on the soft ground behind the swing. She leans forward so her elbows fit into the swing seat. Let her gently push the swing forward and back; the movement provides the smooth thrusting. Stay still. And quiet.
She’ll be bowled over by the time you’re finished on Boulders Beach. Go and discover the many little hideaways on this secluded spot just a few minutes walk from the quaint naval village of Simonstown, Cape Town.
The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens offer a tactile experience like no other. The grass produces a different sensation on the skin. Otherwise try finding a bush (make sure you’re not allergic to it first though) and dive under it with your beloved. Why not get into the groove next summer with the Summer Garden Concerts. Find a dark corner away from the crowd and set the night to music of your own kind. There’s a thought to get you through winter.
If you find the average bath a little cramped when you’re trying to pull the moves on that special lady friend, maybe you need a receptable specially designed for two. The Parisienne spa bath from Summer Place Spas comes with an ergonomically designed base in the form of two reclining bathers. It also has optimised positioning of air and water jets, which means total stimulation for you and your partner. So light some candles, add some bath oils and linger in Mr Bubble all night. Call (011) 442 3120 or visit www.summerplace.co.za.
Spring holiday spot
The all-inclusive Vatulele Resort in the Fiji Islands has 18 villas, no phones, and dinner is served in caves. But that’s not why we picked it. Where else can you take day trips to Nooki Nooki Island? For South Africans to get to this paradise location, the best route is to fly to Sydney and get a connecting flight to the Fiji Islands with Qantas Airlines. Once on the island, expect to spend more than R120 000 for a minimum four-night stay. For reservations visit www.vatulele.com.
Driving a Volvo doesn’t have to be boring. The large interior
of the Volvo V70 Estate measures 1.85 metres by 1.56 metres with a height of 0.81 metres. Proof that size does matter. Phone (021) 422 0100 in Cape Town and (011) 784 5330 in Gauteng for details.
An alternative passion wagon is the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Not only does it have ample head-, hip- and shoulder-room and luxurious leather seats, but it’s exclusive Quadra-Coil suspension provides a smooth ride, no matter what the conditions. Contact (021) 419 7100.
We didn’t choose the Kirman from Nouwens Carpets because we feel romantic, but because we hate carpet burns. It’s 100 percent wool which makes for cushioned, friction-free activity.
A good underlay means a nice recoil – very important when
you are sans bed. Visit www.nouwens.co.za. Available at most furniture stores nationwide.