Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Puffy Giant Planet Discovered by KELT-S Transit Survey

The discovery lightcurve of exoplanet KELT-10b is overlaid on an image of the KELT-S Telescope in South Africa. The lightcurve was obtained using 4967 observations over about 4-years. A 30-minute binned lightcurve is shown in red. Image Credit: R. Kuhn & Vanderbilt University/SAAO.

Transiting planets orbiting bright stars provide a golden opportunity to learn about the nature of exoplanets, their composition and origin. A robotic survey of the southern sky, designed to detect such systems, has discovered its first exoplanet: KELT-10b, a highly inflated giant planet. Although it is only 2/3 the mass of Jupiter, KELT-10b is 40% larger than Jupiter in radius. Because of its large size, when the planet passes in front of its star, it blocks out a whopping 1.4% of the star’s light, generating a transit signal that is relatively easy to detect. As one of only 25 planets known to transit bright stars (V < 11) in the southern hemisphere, KELT-10b is an attractive target for future studies aimed at characterizing planetary atmospheres. 

KELT-10b was discovered by the Kilodegree Extremely LIttle Telescope-South (KELT-S) transit survey. KELT-S is a robotic telescope located at the Sutherland site of the South African Astronomical Observatory. It is operated by Vanderbilt University and the South African Astronomical Observatory. NOAO astronomer David James is a founding member of the project. 

Describing his enthusiasm for the KELT-S project, James explained, “Efforts to detect and characterize extra-solar planets are driven by the deep-rooted desires of humanity to understand the origin of the solar system and their place in it. Although small aperture planet-hunting telescopes like KELT-S are typically are modest in budget, they deliver a strong return in science. They are also a powerful educational experience for students.” 

James is excited by the future of exoplanet research, as it moves from the era of exoplanet detection and taxonomy to the characterization of their atmospheres and searches for bio-signatures. He mused, “When my daughter is my age, perhaps having detected exoplanets of her own, she may well be using a 30-50m class telescope to describe their biology and potential for hosting life.”

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