February 19, 2019

19.10.09: 32 New Exoplanets Revealed!

Anybody notice the exoplanet tally on our front page hop up to 402 this morning? That’s because the European Southern Observatory (ESO) revealed a stunning 32 (count em!) new exoplanets identified this morning at their conference at Porto, Portugal. The discoveries were thanks to HARPS, the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher, a sensitive spectrograph attached to the 3.6 meter telescope at La Silla. First installed in 2003, HARPS has thus far discovered 75 of the 400+ worlds now known, or nearly 25%! today’s haul represents the largest single day release. Any special firsts? Well, the grab bag of exo-worlds substantially increases the pool of “super-earths”, as well as three planets found orbiting metal deficient stars, something that may be cause for tweaking planetary formation theory a bit. HARPS is capable of measuring radial shifts as small as 2 miles per hour, an impressive feat. The gauntlet has now been thrown; will the Kepler space telescope rise to the challenge as it stares into Cygnus looking for exo-transits? Do we sense a “exoplanet-war” brewing on mountain tops and chat boards across the world? Stay tuned!

23.9.9 CoRoT-7b: A Rare Earth.

The “Super-Earths” are getting smaller. Recently, the ESA announced that an exoplanet discovered on February 3rd of this year by the CoRoT (Convection Rotation and planetary Transit) satellite is one of the lightest yet… at about five Earth masses, this transiting exoplanet is about twice the diameter of the Earth. But don’t pack your bags just yet; CoRoT-7b as its designated, also zips around its host star every 20.4 hours at a distance 23 times closer than Mercury! This bakes the rocky world with temps in excess of 2000 degrees Celsius. The parent star itself is slighter cooler and younger than our Sun. Follow up measurements by HARPS, the ground based High Accuracy Radial velocity planet Searcher spectrograph at the La Silla Observatory in Chile helped tease out the radial speed and yielded an unexpected bonus; another Earth-like world, CoRoT-7c, which orbits at a relatively sedate 3 days and 17 hours and is 8 times the mass of the Earth. Such bizzare systems may become the norm in the coming years, as exoplanet detection technology becomes more sensitive. The CoRoT-7 system is located about 500 light years away in the plane of the Milky Way galaxy in the constellation Monoceros.