The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 4, 2013

Our Readers Speak — Saturday, May 4, 2013

Readers should try a new kind of hunting

Critics have complained that hunting is a “near” lost art in West Virginia. The sport — though the animals were never asked — isn’t what it use to be.

The joyous days of peering over the sights of a high-powered rifle and a compound bow has its roots in our prehistoric survival. It was either kill or starve. But I suggest those macho men (and some women — she-macho’s?) should turn to a new type of hunt. I refer to planet-hunting, and I might be the first in Wyoming County to have “bagged” one or two.

By measuring the winks and wobble with exacting precision, astronomers have found and verified around 850 alien planets (exoplanets) in a bewildering array of sizes and in orbits mostly outside of the “Goldilocks” (habitable zones) of their suns. Yet the number of rocky earthlike planets is quickly climbing. And thus so is the number of possible worlds holding life.

In October 2012 a planet was found orbiting Alpha Centaur B (the first discovery of a planet in our closest neighbor system of stars, and at this time of writing is the least massive exoplanet ever found around a star resembling our Sun). This planet became my first confirmed big-time “kill”. You see, as a member of the Planetary Society I helped to rent viewing time on a telescope in Chile, so this planet could be discovered. It is also likely more planets in this system will be spotted. So my kill ratio will rise — perhaps by the end of this year. Find a planet-save a buck, a bear, or a bunny.

In 2009 Planetary Society members supported FINDS (Fiberoptic Improved Next-generation Doppler Search) Exo-Earths project, which allows scientists to find and verify earthside objects quicker. Ex was added to two Chilean observatories and the Lick Observatory in California. Soon perhaps the keck in Hawaii, and may help verify the over 2,000  planets tagged by the Kepler (NASA) telescope.

Now that I’ve helped to find some planets — a Lazy-Boy chair explorer — shouldn’t the town of Pineville build me a statue alongside of the founder (W.W. Cook)?

After all, I’ve already discovered more real-estate than he ever did. So happy planet hunting. Spare the bullets, for this hunting requires no gun; just an abundance of patience and curiosity: You too can be like a Columbus gazing upon new worlds.

Lonnie Bailey — Planet Hunter.

Lonnie Bailey