The University of Hawaii at Manoa, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California Observatories and the Tennessee State University put together a team of dedicated astronomers who have recently announced that a new planetary system comprising three planets orbiting around their star has been discovered.
The enthusiastic and excited astronomers said that the main tools used in the discovery were the Automated Planet Finder (APF) Telescope at the Lick Observatory in California and the Automatic Photometric Telescope (APT) at Fairborn Observatory, Arizona. A crucial helping hand was provided by the measurements from the Keck Observatory in Maunakea.
The Keck Observatory had already in 2009 found evidence of planets orbiting the HD7924 star, yet five more years of observations were needed to have the full extent of the discovery released today.
In speeding up the release of the news, the APF and APT played highly important roles. Since automation is a relatively newly introduced process. Making use of these tools, the astronomer team could exactly detect the wobble of the HD7924 star as the three planets orbited around it and exercised their gravitational pull.
The APT was crucial in making correct measurements of the star’s brightness at different moments of the planets’ orbiting. And APF found the planets. As Andrew Howard, a professor of astronomy at the University of Hawaii stated „This level of automation is a game-changer in astronomy. It’s a bit like owning a driverless car that goes planet-shopping”. APF is a facility that offers the possibility to quick search for new planets. These can be revealed faster as this dedicated facility scans for planets during every night with a clear sky, without any human oversight.
In the case of the new planetary system, the three planets that are orbiting the HD7924 star display masses of seven to eight times the mass of Earth, and orbit quite close to their star, completing their orbiting in five, 15 and 24 days respectively. These facts render them unusual in comparison with everything we known outside our system so far, where other planets are even 17 times the mass of Earth.
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