Enormous exoplanet-hunting dataset released to the public

Melba UnderwoodFeb 16, 2017

In search of alien worlds, they have spotted more than 100 new potential exoplanets using one of the most successful techniques. Go forth and become drunk with power.

In a press release on the university's website, MIT wrote that observations were taken using the High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES), an instrument mounted on the observatory's 10-meter telescope at Mauna Kea.

HIRES has observed more than 1,600 "neighborhood" stars, all within 325 light years from Earth, with observations ranging from 30 seconds to 20 minutes, depending on the measurement precision they required.

"This is an awesome catalog, and we realized there just aren't enough of us on the team to be doing as much science as could come out of this dataset", says Jennifer Burt, a Torres Postdoctoral Fellow in MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

"Although HIRES was originally created to look at faint galaxies, my teammates had plans to use HIRES for planet hunting before it was even installed", Jennifer Burt, an MIT postdoctoral fellow who's involved in the project, told Digital Trends. Steven Vogt was the professor who designed this project, being part of the planet-hunting team.

That's a good thing too, since HIRES has facilitated a handful of notable exoplanet discoveries since the mid-1990s, according to Burt.

HIRES can assist in estimating the radial velocity of a star, which is composed of very small star movements either due to its own processes or as a response to an external factor. Such shifts are caused by slight changes in the star's velocity, which scientists can use to deduce the gravitational tug of an exoplanet.

The discovery of 100 extra solar planets, includes one orbiting the fourth closest start to the Solar System.

The worldwide research team published their findings in The Astronomical Journal. The team made the data public so people could reach the best research study about exoplanets in the world. Users simply install the team's console, select a star they'd like to study, and manipulate a slider tool to increase or decrease the time window of stellar observations. The data is formatted to import into the Systemic Planet Fitting package. Not all of the stars were subjected to the same level of scrutiny by HIRES, meaning that some stellar bodies will have only several days' worth of data, whereas others have decades. "There's a lot of follow up that needs to be done to rule out false positives". The teams did so because it's going to have third decade data.

"We were very conservative in this paper about what counts as an exoplanet candidate and what does not", said Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire, who led an analysis of the data in an effort to determine which of the findings are likely to indicate the presence of planets. There's also a handful of tutorials available to give you a crash course in combing the numbers for useful observations.

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