Wednesday, June 15, 2016

NASA Finds "Tattoine"

Or at least an exoplanet that might have Tattoine as a moon: NASA confirms discovery of ‘Tatooine’ planet
 Lehigh University astronomer assistant professor of physics Joshua Pepper is using crowdsourcing to gather observations worldwide–and the information is being used to verify the discovery of new planets. His network– known as the “KELT Follow-Up Network”–is made up of nearly 40 members in 10 countries across 4 continents. The group–the largest, most coordinated network of its kind–contributed key observations to confirm the existence of the recently-identified planet, Kepler-1647 b.
So, if I understand this, the amateur astronomers are used to monitor the star nearly full time, so they can catch the relatively rare and irregular passages of the planet in front of one of the stars. That's cool!
The new planet was discovered by a team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and San Diego State University used the Kepler Space Telescope. The discovery was announced today in San Diego, at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The research has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal with Veselin Kostov, a NASA Goddard postdoctoral fellow, as lead author.

Planets that orbit two stars are known as circumbinary planets, or sometimes “Tatooine” planets, after Luke Skywalker’s homeland in “Star Wars.” Using NASA’s Kepler telescope, astronomers search for slight dips in brightness that hint a planet might be transiting in front of a star, blocking a small portion of the star’s light.

“But finding circumbinary planets is much harder than finding planets around single stars,” said SDSU astronomer William Welsh, one of the paper’s coauthors. “The transits are not regularly spaced in time and they can vary in duration and even depth.”

To help verify what they had seen, the researchers made use of the worldwide network of professional and amateur astronomers that Pepper–a coauthor on the paper–had created.

“Most members of our network have small telescopes that are not able to observe distant galaxies–but they are very well-suited to observing bright stars, like the ones Kepler-1647 b is orbiting,” said Pepper.

 Kepler-1647 is 3700 light-years away and approximately 4.4 billion years old, roughly the same age as the Earth. The stars are similar to the Sun, with one slightly larger than our home star and the other slightly smaller. The planet has a mass and radius nearly identical to that of Jupiter, making it the largest transiting circumbinary planet ever found.

“It’s a bit curious that this biggest planet took so long to confirm, since it is easier to find big planets than small ones”, said SDSU astronomer Jerome Orosz, another coauthor on the study. “But it is because its orbital period is so long.”

The planet takes 1,107 days (just over 3 years) to orbit its host stars, the longest period of any confirmed transiting exoplanet found so far. The planet is also much further away from its stars than any other circumbinary planet, breaking with the tendency for circumbinary planets to have close-in orbits. Interestingly, its orbit puts the planet within the so-called habitable zone. Like Jupiter, however, Kepler-1647 b is a gas giant, making the planet unlikely to host life. Yet if the planet has large moons, they could potentially be suitable for life.
Some people think about this quite a lot. . .

Wombat-socho has "Rule 5 Sunday: EDC Girls" up at The Other McCain.

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