Qatar 1-b, a new extrasolar planet discovered in Qatar

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 has an article here today about the discovery of an extrasolar planet, a planet that doesn't seem to be particularly interesting (another gas giant), but one I consider to be important given who discovered the planet. I write often on the role smaller countries should play in space and astronomy, especially countries just about this size that may not be large enough to have their own space agency, but can still play an important role by contributing to the discovery of other planets, asteroids, and so on.

In spite of its high GDP per capita Qatar is still extremely tiny, with a surface area that makes even South Korea look huge in comparison (it's the same size as Gyeonggi-do, the province that surrounds Seoul) and a population of just 1.7 million. In terms of total GDP it's at 56th, sharing a space with a number of other countries that also lack the economic clout to build their own space agency but can certainly help out from the ground - Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Vietnam, Peru, etc.

Now, if a group of smaller countries feel up to it they could also do something even more impressive: pool funds together for a project like the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope, which would cost about $2 billion to construct. While space agencies need to be funded year after year, an observatory is mostly about up-front investment and simple maintenance later on so an observatory of this type could be doable if a number of countries feel up to it.

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