Hawaii – A planetary system orbiting a nearby star has been discovered. The team of astronomers behind this discovery of three planets which are said to be a minimum of 54 gentle light years away used ground-based telescopes called the “Automated Planet Finder”.
They were able to detect the wobble of the star HD 7924 which is easily visible to the naked eye, and it is also visible in the night sky.
The tremendous earths that had been found six years ago by the Keck Observatory with the HIRES instrument were approximately six to seven Earth masses. The scientists are hoping that the groundbreaking discovery christened as a “game-changer in astronomy” will give a leeway for discovering several other planets which orbit nearby stars.
“APF was initially used like a regular telescope with scientists having to stay up all night searching star to star,” BJ Fulton, a graduate student from the University of Hawaiʻi explained. However, they found the idea of letting a computer take the graveyard shift more appealing and after having gone through several months with little or no sleep.
Thousands of other extrasolar planets have been discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope, which is common in our Milky Way galaxy. However, a majority of them are far from the solar system.UC Berkeley graduate student Lauren Weiss explains that the three planets are unlike anything in our solar system.
This level of mechanization is a bit like having a driverless car that goes planet shopping. A UH graduate student, Evan Sinukoff said that the repetition of observations has allowed them as scientists show the distinctiveness of the starspot signals from the signatures of these new planets.
Meanwhile, Telescope automation is relatively new to astronomy. However, HD 7924 robot observations kick starts a systematic survey for super-Earth planets orbiting nearby stars. The two-year research with APF will be led by Fulton and will be part of his research for his doctoral dissertation.
Later on, there will be a census of small planets orbiting sun-like stars but only after the survey is complete.