Small telescope makes big planet discovery

June 14, 2012 at 7:27 PM
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COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 14 (UPI) -- Astronomers using a telescope with a lens no more powerful than a high-end digital camera say they've confirmed the existence of two very "weird" planets.

One is a massive, puffed-up oddball that could change ideas of how solar systems evolve, while the other orbits a very bright star and will allow astronomers to make detailed measurements of the atmospheres of these bizarre worlds, Ohio State University reported Wednesday.

Using the KELT North telescope in southern Arizona, they observed one planet in the constellation Andromeda dubbed KELT-1b so massive that it may better be described as a "failed star" rather than a planet.

A super hot, super dense ball of metallic hydrogen, KELT-1b is located so close to its star that it whips through an entire orbit in a little over a day while being blasted by 6,000 times the radiation Earth receives from the sun.

The planet "resets the bar for 'weird,'" said Scott Gaudi, an OSU professor of astronomy and member of the research team.

The other planet, KELT-2Ab, in the constellation Auriga, resembles many previously discovered extrasolar planets in that it is similar to Jupiter in our own solar system.

But its parent star is very bright -- so bright astronomers believe they will be able to directly observe the planet's atmosphere by studying the starlight that shines through it, using telescopes located on the ground.

"Normally, we would need a space telescope to do all that, but in this case the host star is so bright that we can make many of these measurements from the ground," OSU researcher Thomas Beatty said.

KELT is short for "Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope," and astronomers at Ohio State and Vanderbilt University operate KELT North and its twin, KELT South in South Africa, as a low-cost way to fill a large gap in the available technologies for finding extrasolar planets.

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