November 24, 2017

13.03.11: STRESS: A New Way to Hunt Exoplanets.

Our Milky Way as seen from STEREO. (Credit: NASA/JPL).

A new and innovative tool in the hunt for extra-solar worlds just came to our attention recently. Traditionally, to find these elusive beasts, astronomers utilized ground-based instruments to detect transits, Doppler shifts, and even the occasional odd gravitational lensing event. Now, new data from NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft may have nabbed the first exo-world transiter seen from a solar observing science platform. As reported earlier in this space, STEREO (the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) is a pair of solar observatories that together give us a full 360° view of our friendly star, the Sun. But one instrument package has an added benefit; namely, its Heliospheric Imagers, which give a wide area of coverage over continuous long periods of observations. Already, data mined from these instruments have turned up 122 previously unknown eclipsing variable stars, and may well have bagged its first exoplanet: a companion to the +7.5 magnitude star HD 213597. The data set of this program entitled STRESS, or the STEREO Transiting Exoplanet and Stellar Survey (yes, it’s an acronym within an acronym!) is truly huge: it comprises over a million stars brighter than +12 magnitude looked at nearly continuously over the span of two years. This is a wonderful example of how multitasking space-based instruments for unthought-of of tasks can yield unexpected…what other data may lurk in them ‘thar archives?




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