UF researchers discover new planet


Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 10:26 p.m.
Researchers from the University of Florida announced Wednesday the discovery of a planet about 100 light years away from Earth.
They named the planet ET-1 after the instrument they used to find it.
The announcement was made at the American Astronomical Society's annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
The team first located ET-1 in April, but didn't have enough information to confirm that the object was a planet until last week. To do so, the researchers had to document a variety of information about its mass and location.
ET-1 is in the Milky Way Galaxy, the same galaxy as Earth. Researchers don't think there is life on the planet, because it is very close to its star.
UF astronomy professors Jian Ge said ET-1 is a "gas giant" and very similar to Jupiter in its size and mass.
Jupiter is 88,846 miles wide and 318 times as massive as the Earth, according to Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
The instrument the researchers used, called the Exoplanet Tracker, was invented by the team in 2003, when their principal investigator, Ge, was teaching at Pennsylvania State University.
"In the last two decades, astronomers have searched about 3,000 stars for new planets," Ge said. "Our success with this new instrument shows that we will soon be able to search stars much more quickly and cheaply."
The Exoplanet Tracker, or ET, cost $200,000 - which is less expensive than the $1 million such instruments cost before ET was invented.
The device searches space for planets and other objects five times faster than other current methods, Ge said.
Other instruments have a spectrograph, which only collects a small percentage of photons from the target light source.
But researchers used an interferometer in their instrument, which is more powerful and takes more precise measurements.
Although he and the team invented the instrument for Penn State, the school transferred ownership to UF when Ge came to Gainesville.
Team members collaborated with researchers from Tennessee State University, the Institute of Astrophysics in Spain's Canary Islands, Penn State and the University of Texas.
"The researchers from the other universities helped us by confirming the existence of ET-1," Ge said. "Without them, we couldn't be sure that what we saw was a planet."
Ge and his team are now trying to develop an instrument that will allow them to search for planets 100 times faster then the Exoplanet Tracker.
The team will name it the W.M. Keck Exoplanet Tracker and expect to complete it by March.

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