March 30, 2009

Exogazing Pollux b

After more than a week of cloudy nights, I stepped out to the hum of the stars.
And as I looked up, a smile flashed upon my face. Tonight is a great night for exogazing! I ran to grab my planisphere and saw which constellations were visible to me that night. Then I consulted the Kepler Star Wheel to find a suitable target within my backyard's field of view by scanning near the Orion constellation for an easy starting point. I saw "HD 62509 b" in tiny letters.
At that point, I did not realize yet that HD 62509 was one and the same as a prominent star. I searched wikipedia for HD 62509 b and there was no entry. Amazed, I looked again at the Kepler Star Wheel and realized that "HD 62509 b" was written underneath the big label of Pollux! Could it be that HD 62509 b is a planet orbiting Pollux? I searched wikipedia for "Pollux b" and there it was!
I was so excited to exogaze at a target that is prominent in the sky that I ran
out with my binoculars and set my gaze skyward, realizing immediately that I did not need any binoculars at all because Pollux shone so bright.
I've seen Pollux (and Castor) many times before, but tonight feels different because now I am looking at it with the knowledge that there is another world orbiting that yellow-orange giant star.

Where's Pollux?
To find Pollux, you can use the Orion constellation as a starting point for star hopping by following a extended arc running upwards from Rigel to Betelgeuse. Way past Betelgeuse you will come across two bright stars, Castor and Pollux known as the twins. The "brighter" one is Pollux which is yellowish with an orange tint.

About Pollux b
Pollux b is also catalogued as Beta Geminorum b (β Gem b / β Geminorum b) and or HD 62509 b. It is approximately 34 light-years away in the constellation of Gemini (the Twins). This exoplanet was discovered in 2006. The planet has a comparable mass to the gas giants in our solar system. It moves around Pollux in 1.61 years at a distance of 1.64 AU in a nearly circular orbit. This planet was originally suspected in 1993, and it wasn't published until June 16, 2006.