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July 01, 2009— Ottawa, Ontario

In 2008, an international team of Canadian, U.S. and British astronomers led by Dr. Christian Marois, an astronomer at the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, obtained the world's first images of planets circling a star outside our solar system. To succeed in this groundbreaking achievement, the researchers relied on the Gemini North (which is operated in part by NRC) and Keck telescopes in Hawaii to observe a star in the constellation of Pegasus and capture infrared images of three planets in orbit around it. The result of eight years of work, the images were made using advanced direct imaging techniques that are revolutionizing astronomy research.

For this remarkable feat, Dr. Marois was named 2008 Scientist of the Year by Radio-Canada. The accolades for his team's discovery of "exoplanets" didn't stop: Science named it the second biggest scientific breakthrough of 2008; the popular website declared it the top astronomy story of the year; and Time magazine ranked it sixth among its "Top 10 Scientific Discoveries of 2008." The achievement of Dr. Marois' team is a testament to NRC leadership in Canadian astronomy.

By law, NRC is responsible for operating and administering all astronomical observatories established or maintained by the Government of Canada (see sidebar). NRC also manages Canada's participation in offshore telescopes, ensuring that Canadian astronomers enjoy full access to world-class facilities spanning the entire sky.

Astrophysics research at NRC is carried out by the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, with facilities located in Victoria and Penticton, B.C. This institute is a world leader in the development of advanced instrumentation. It places a high priority on industrial collaborations and technology transfer, and has helped several industry partners win major contracts and establish a competitive presence on the world market. The Institute also maintains an active public outreach and education program - including a year-round interpretative centre, the Centre of the Universe, in Victoria.

Did you know?

NRC-HIA operates the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton and the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Victoria where the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre is located. NRC-HIA also represents Canada in the seven-nation Gemini Observatory , with an 8-metre optical telescope in Hawaii and another in Chile, as well as the 3.6-metre Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (optical) and the 15-metre James Clerk Maxwell Telescope , both in Hawaii.

This current issue of NRC Highlights is all about Canadian astronomy. In it, you will learn more about Dr. Christian Marois' groundbreaking exoplanet discovery and about NRC's leadership role in the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009), a global event that aims to increase people's awareness of the night skies. Other articles discuss NRC's contributions to some of the most ambitious international astronomy projects underway.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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