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