Even a small telescope can spot strange new alien worlds.
The KELT North telescope in southern Arizona is equipped with a lens that is no more powerful than a high-end digital camera, and yet, it has
just revealed the existence of two very unusual distant planets.
One planet is a massive, puffed-up oddity that could change ideas of how solar systems evolve.
The other orbits a very bright star, and will allow astronomers to make detailed measurements of the atmospheres of these bizarre worlds.
One planet is located in the constellation Andromeda. Dubbed KELT-1b, it is 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 "yearly"
orbit in a little over a day -- all the while being blasted by six thousand times the radiation Earth receives from the sun.
What's more, the planet appears to have been jostled in the past by a previously unknown distant binary companion star that is orbiting the KELT-1 solar system.
In short, the planet "resets the bar for 'weird,'" said Scott Gaudi, an associate professor of astronomy at Ohio State and a member of the research team.
The other planet, KELT-2Ab, is located in the constellation Auriga, and is typical of many previously discovered extrasolar planets in that it much
resembles our own Jupiter.
But its parent star is very bright -- so bright that astronomers believe that they will be able to directly observe KELT-2Ab's
atmosphere by studying the starlight that shines through it and the infrared heat that radiates from it -- using telescopes located not only in space,
but also on the ground.
Ohio State University doctoral student Thomas Beatty and Vanderbilt University research scientist Robert Siverd reported these discoveries for the KELT-North team
at the American Astronomical Society national meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. Beatty described the newly discovered planets in a news conference on June 13.
"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,"
This artist's rendering shows planet KELT-1b, which resides so close to its star that it completes a "yearly" orbit in a
mere 30 hours. (Credit: Julie Turner, Vanderbilt University.)
KELT is short for "Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope." Astronomers at Ohio State and Vanderbilt University jointly operate KELT
North and its twin, KELT South, in order to fill a large gap in the available technologies for finding extrasolar planets.
Other telescopes were designed to look at very faint stars in tiny sections of the sky, and at very high resolution,
Beatty explained. The KELTs, in contrast, look at millions of very bright stars at once, over broad sections of sky, and at low resolution.
"Our stars are so bright, these 'more powerful' telescopes can't even look at them," Beatty said.
The KELT team scans those bright stars, and watches to see if the starlight dims just a little -- an indication that a
planet has crossed in front of the star. The technique is called the "transit method," and takes advantage of situations such
as the recent transit of Venus across the face of the sun in our own solar system.
It's a low-cost means of planet-hunting, using mostly off-the-shelf technology; Whereas a traditional astronomical telescope
costs millions of dollars to build, the hardware for a KELT telescope runs less than $75,000.
"Exoplanets like KELT-1b and KELT-2Ab that pass directly in front of very bright stars are extremely important, but extremely
rare, because there just aren't that many very bright stars in the sky," said Stassun. "The KELT-North and KELT-South partnership
gives us the advantage of hunting for these rare gems from both hemispheres, doubling the hunting grounds."
KELT North covers the northern sky, while KELT South, located near Cape Town, South Africa, covers the southern sky. Both newly
discovered planets were found using KELT North.
Most Alien World We Can Only Imagine
This is not an alien world, anyone of us will ever be able to visit.
It's not very far away, only about 40 light years from Earth, but it circles dangerously close to a stellar inferno, completing one orbit in only 18 hours. The alien planet named "55 Cancri e" is 26 times closer
to its parent star than Mercury is to the Sun. The temperature on the surface of 55 Cancri e is estimated to be as high as 2,700 degrees Celsius.
Bright Spark In Messier 99 Puzzles Scientists
Astronomers are keeping their eyes on a bright spark in Messier 99.
The nature of the object remains unknown and for the time being scientists have classified it as an unexplained phenomenon.
What makes astronomy so interesting is the fact that we often discover new unidentified objects in the Universe.
Abnormal Star Discovered In The 'Forbidden Zone'
A team of astrophysicists from Germany, France and Italy have discovered in the constellation Leo is an old star.
The star's existence raised at once many questions for scientists.
The object is definitely not as its "contemporaries" that appeared immediately after the Big Bang event.
Tremendous Explosion And Appearance Of Odd Rings
Twenty five years ago, on 1987 February 23, the brightest supernova of modern times was observed in the Large Magellanic Cloud.
The collision occurred at speeds near 60 million kilometers per hour and shock-heats the ring material causing it to glow.
Over time, astronomers have watched and waited for the expanding debris from this tremendous stellar
explosion to crash into previously expelled material.
Violent Dragon Clash Billions Of Years Ago
NGC 5907 is sometimes called the "Splinter" or Knife Edge Galaxy because of its unusual appearance.
It is a spiral galaxy lying in the Dragon constellation,
about 40 million light-years from Earth that could have been formed through a gigantic collision of galaxies, 8 to 9 billion years ago.
The "Cloaked" Star Was Difficult To Find
An object obscured by dust, and buried in a two-star system enshrouded by dense gas, is not easy to find.
A "cloaked" star was discovered after it ate a little of its neighbor. The meal must have given the star a bit of indigestion, because it
"burped" with a blast of high-energy radiation, which gave it away.
First Discovered Carbon-Rich Planet: Could It Harbor Life?
WASP-12b is the first carbon-rich world ever observed. It is an extremely hot and large gas giant orbiting another star and it has unusual amount of carbon.
Carbon is a common component of planetary systems and a key ingredient of life on Earth.
Does it mean some kind of life might exist on WASP-12b?
Invader From Another Galaxy
This alien intruder from another galaxy is in many ways different from other exoplanets observed by astronomers.
Located about 2000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Fornax (the Furnace), the Jupiter-like planet orbits a dying star of
extragalactic origin and risks to be engulfed by it.