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New Planet Around a Sun-Like Star

Rice University astronomers searching for undiscovered planets around distant stars have helped confirm the work of an industrious group of amateur astronomers who are paving the way for more part-time star-watchers to join the global hunt for new planets.

In newly announced research slated to appear in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal, an international team of amateurs and professionals led by astronomer Peter McCullough of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, discovered a Jupiter-like planet circling the star XO-1 about 600 light years from earth.

McCullough, who's conducting a survey for extrasolar planets using a small set of self-constructed instruments atop a Hawaiian volcano, found the first signs of the new planet, dubbed XO-1b. He asked four amateur astronomers to make regular observations of the star, and their observations confirmed the planet's existence.

McCullough also asked Rice astronomer Christopher Johns-Krull to monitor XO-1 using the Harlan J. Smith telescope at the University of Texas' McDonald Observatory in far West Texas. Johns-Krull and Rice graduate student Marcos Huerta observed XO-1 on 4 nights this past February. Analysis of the spectra they obtained provided further confirmation of the planet and also determined that the star was very similar to the Sun. For example, XO-1 rotates slowly, as does the Sun, which is important because the light from rapidly rotating stars can sometimes fool astronomers into thinking a planet exists when it does not.  

An artist's impression of the planet, XO-1b, passing in front of its host star.