Hawai‘i Telescope Finds 100 Possible Planets

February 16, 2017, 9:29 AM HST (Updated February 20, 2017, 1:39 PM) · 5 Comments

Artist’s conceptions of the probable planet orbiting a star called GJ 411, courtesy of Ricardo Ramirez.

An international team of astronomers released two decades worth of data on Monday, Feb. 13, that revealed over 100 potential new exoplanets—alien worlds that are similar to Earth.

The data was gathered using the W.M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea and consisted of nearly 61,000 measurements made on over 1,600 stars. The findings were published in the Astronomical Journal

“The work of this team and their willingness to share data and techniques unveils a world of new possibilities, vastly increasing the ability of astronomers everywhere to perform in-depth studies of these exoplanet systems,” said Hilton Lewis, Keck Observatory director.

The measurements were gathered using a specialized instrument called HIRES (High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer) which is mounted on one of Keck’s twin telescopes. The instrument is designed to detect tiny wobbles of nearby stars caused by the gravitational pull of surrounding planets. Astronomers use the measurements taken by HIRES in conjunction with sophisticated algorithms to pick up the faint signatures of exoplanets. 

“HIRES is an incredible tool, part of the suite of sensitive instruments used to perform all kinds of extraordinary observations with our twin telescopes,” said Greg Doppmann, Keck Observatory support astronomer.

The international team who worked on the data included astronomers and representatives from Carnegie Institution for Science, University of California at Santa Cruz, Yale University, University of Hertfordshire, and Universidad de Chile.

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