Using a network of small telescopes and the "transit method" of detection, scientists have made their first direct discovery of a planet orbiting a bright star. A periodic dimming of light from a bright star 500 light-years away revealed the planets presence. The stars intense light will allow scientists to explore the chemical makeup of the planets atmosphere in future observations. A paper on the recent discovery will appear on-line today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Periodic dimming of bright starlight reveals distant planet. Credit: David A. Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
"This effort further develops the transit method and lays the groundwork for more research into the composition of the atmospheres surrounding planets outside our solar system," said Cliff Jacobs, program director in NSFs division of atmospheric sciences, which funded the discovery. The research is co-funded by NASA. "In this age of mega-astronomical observing tools, its amazing that this discovery resulted from modest observing instruments."
This is the first extrasolar planet discovery made by a dedicated survey of thousands of relatively bright stars in large regions of the sky. It is also the first using the Trans-Atlantic Exoplanet Survey (TrES, pronounced "trace"), a network of small, relatively inexpensive telescopes designed to look specifically for planets orbiting bright stars. The telescopes make use of the transit technique, in which scientists analyze the shadow cast by a planet as it passes between its star and Earth.
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