An astronomer at the University of California Riverside (UCR) and a group of eagle-eyed citizen scientists have discovered a gas giant planet hidden from view by standard stargazers.
The planet TOI-2180 b, has the same diameter as Jupiter, but is about three times larger. Researchers also believe it contains 105 times the mass of Earth in elements heavier than helium and hydrogen. There is nothing quite like it in our solar system.
Details of the discovery have been published in Astronomical Journal It was presented at the American Astronomical Society’s virtual press event on January 13.
“TOI-2180 b is a very interesting planet that has been discovered,” said astronomer Paul Dalba, who helped confirm the planet’s existence. “It hits 3D 1) it has an orbit spanning several hundred days; 2) it is relatively close to Earth (379 light-years is considered close to an exoplanet); and 3) we can see it passing in front of its star. It’s very rare for scientists to discover Astronomy is a planet that checks these three squares.”
Delba also explained that the planet is special because it takes 261 days to complete a journey around its star, a relatively long period compared to many known gas giants outside our solar system. Its relative proximity to Earth and the brightness of the star that orbits it also make it likely that astronomers will be able to learn more about it.
In order to locate exoplanets, which orbit stars other than our sun, NASA’s TESS satellite looks at one part of the sky for a month, then teleports. It looks for dips in brightness that occur when a planet crosses in front of a star.
“The rule of thumb is that we need to see three ‘downhills’ or transits before we think we’ve found a planet,” Dalpa said. A single transit event can be caused by a telescope with a shake, or a star masquerading as a planet. For these reasons, TESS does not focus on these single transfer events. However, a small group of citizen scientists.
Looking at TESS data, Tom Jacobs, a group member and former US Navy officer, saw a faint light from the TOI-2180 star, only once. His group alerted Delpa, a specialist in the study of planets that take too long to orbit their stars.
Using the Lick Observatory’s Automated Planet Finder Telescope, Dalpa and colleagues observed the planet’s gravitational pull on the star, allowing them to calculate the mass of TOI-2180 b and estimate a range of possibilities for its orbit.
Hoping to observe a second transit event, Dalba organized a campaign using 14 different telescopes across three continents in the Northern Hemisphere. Over the course of 11 days in August 2021, the effort yielded 20,000 images of the star TOI-2180, although none of them confidently detected the planet.
However, the campaign led the group to estimate that TESS will see the planet transit its star again in February, when they plan to conduct a follow-up study. Dalba’s research is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.
The Citizen Planet Hunters Group takes publicly available data from NASA satellites such as TESS and looks for single transit events. While professional astronomers use algorithms to scan a lot of data automatically, the Visual Survey Group uses software they created to examine telescope data by eye.
“The effort they put in is really important and impressive, because it is difficult to write code that can reliably recognize single transport events,” Dalba said. “This is one area where humans are still overcoming code.”
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Paul A. Dalba et al, The TESS-Keck Survey. viii. Confirmation of a giant planet transiting over an eccentric 261-day period using the Automated Planet Finder Telescope*, Astronomical Journal (2022). DOI: 10.3847 / 1538-3881 / ac415b
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