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A Planet with Four Suns

18 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 18 October 2012

It’s not long since astronomers announced they had seen a planet with two suns, a real life version of Tatooine, the home of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. But now amateur astronomers have gone one, or should we say two, better. Because after trawling through reams of data on the website, they spotted the first ever planet with four suns. University of Oxford Professor Chris Lintott and his colleagues have now picked up the baton, but the discovery goes to prove you don't have to be a pro to get involved with planetary science.

Image:Artist impression of PH1: A planet in a four-star system/Credit:Haven Giguere/Yale

Since its development by Willard Libby in 1950, radiocarbon dating has revolutionised the way archaeologists calculate the age of their finds. We tend to think of it as an exact science, but there has always been a nagging doubt about the accuracy the further back in time you go. Current methods leave an unknown error that could put the dating out by as much as hundreds of years either side. But research in the journal Science reveals a new method that could improve the accuracy back to 50,000 years. The team, led by University of Oxford Professor Christopher Ramsey, says the discovery could help researchers interpret past climate change more precisely and gain a better understanding of the spread of modern humans across the globe.

We are used to hearing about animals being used as models for human behaviour, but new research turns that on its head and uses our understanding of how humans interact to better understand packs of wild baboons. Human consumer choices have been well studied over the years, and the same methods are being used by scientists at the Zoological Society of London to work out how baboons forage and ‘shop’ for food within their social groups. The verdict? You are safer to eat with your friends rather than your boss. Sophie Buijsen reports.

  • A young chacma baboon in Tsaobis Leopard Park, Namibia

    A young chacma baboon in Tsaobis Leopard Park, Namibia

    Credit: Hannah Peck / ZSL


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