December 6, 2008
Students turned Planet-hunters
Congratulations to the three students from the netherlands who turned out to be planet-hunters. Francis Vuijsje, Meta de Hoon, and Remco van der Burg discovered a very hot exoplanet called OGLE-TR-L9 b around a fast-spinning star.
More details about their discovery will be published in the forthcoming issue of the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, but a glimpse of their story hints that the discovery is almost serendipitous: the students detected the exoplanet while testing a method for investigating light fluctuations of thousands of stars in the OGLE database in an automated way.
They combed through OGLE's database to sift through massive amounts of data and found the tell-tale pattern of a planet's existence from the fluctuations on the starlight detected over time.
OGLE stands for Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment. It is a Polish astronomical project based at Warsaw University that is chiefly concerned with discovering dark matter using the Microlensing technique. Since the project began in 1992, it has discovered several extrasolar planets as a side benefit.
You see, OGLE itself might not have been originally designed to hunt for exoplanets, and that makes it all the more fun serendipitously discovering gems.
Where the recent exoplanet discoveries that made headlines were made via direct imaging method, this one was discovered via some cool pattern-finding algorithms that sifted through differential photometry datasets from OGLE.
This method could usher in a new era for amateur exoplanetology, specially when the deluge of data from the new generation of space telescopes comes, and is made accessible to the public.
And so, many other "hidden" exoplanets could be lurking not only out there in space, but "inside" the hard-drives and database of OGLE that contain photometric data, and the tell-tale patterns of the existence of exoplanets are still be waiting to be discovered.