Feeds

Small 'scope spots big planet

500 light-years hence

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Remote control for virtualized desktops

A new extra-solar planet has been identified orbiting a star 500 light years from our solar system. The discovery was made by a team using a four-inch diameter telescope to make their observations - a size of 'scope readily available and much used by amateur observers.

The research was conducted at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), and suggests we are on the brink of a new age of planet discovery, the organisation says. Guillermo Torres, co-author of the study, says the results prove that "even humble telescopes can make huge contributions to planet searches".

Like all the other identified extra-solar planets, the body found orbiting the star in the constellation Lyra is a giant. Also in keeping with other identified planets, it orbits very close to the star: in this case only four million miles away - sixteen times the distance from the Earth to the moon. Its orbit is just 3.03 days long.

The planet was found during a survey of thousands of bright stars spread across the sky. The team hunted for planets using the transit method: watching a star for a dip in its brightness, indicating that something passed between the star and the observer. A planet the size of Jupiter, for example, would produce a one per cent drop in the amount of light reaching Earth - enough to be detectable.

Looking for planets using this method is a bit hit-and-miss, and so requires that many, many stars be surveyed. This is because a planet will only cause a dip in brightness if is orbiting a star at exactly the right angle, from our perspective. If it is in the wrong plane, it will pass undetected.

To survey so much of the sky, the team at the CfA used a network of small telescopes. David Charbonneau, who co-led the research, explains that although the equipment is easily available, the technique is cutting edge: "It took several Ph.D. scientists working full-time to develop the data analysis methods for this search program," he said.

Despite these limitations, the transit method provides more precise information about the planet than the Doppler method by which most other planets have been found.

The CfA explains that the Doppler method "detects a planet's gravitational effect on its star spectroscopically by breaking the star's light into its component colours".

However, because the Doppler method provides no way of working out the angle of incline of a given system, it can only provide a lower limit to the mass of a planet. The signal produced by a high mass brown dwarf orbiting at a very high angle to our line of sight will perfectly match that from a smaller planet orbiting edge-on.

"When astronomers find a transiting planet, we know that its orbit is essentially edge-on, so we can calculate its exact mass. From the amount of light it blocks, we learn its physical size. In one instance, we've even been able to detect and study a giant planet's atmosphere," Charbonneau commented.

Once the initial discovery was made, the team passed the stellar details to the W. M. Keck observatory. This facility operates two of the biggest telescope on Hawaii, and these follow up observations were essential to confirm the find. ®

Related stories

Neptune shows off five new moons
Jupiter and Saturn: chalk and cheese
Astronomers probe star wrapped in comets

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rockin' boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Simplify SSL certificate management across the enterprise
Simple steps to take control of SSL across the enterprise, and recommendations for a management platform for full visibility and single-point of control for these Certificates.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.