College of Charleston research students discover new planet

Staff Report
Published Nov. 21, 2012

Two College of Charleston students have discovered a new extrasolar planet, the college said in a news release.

The undergraduate research students, under the supervision of an astronomy professor, were analyzing images from one of the world’s largest telescopes when they discovered the planet. They processed images to find a faint, but direct, image of the planet.

There are nearly 850 extrasolar planets — planets that orbit stars other than the sun — and a small fraction have been captured in images, the college said, because most detections of these planets come from indirect methods.

“Just discovering a new extrasolar planet is exciting,” said Joe Carson, professor of astronomy at the College of Charleston. Carson, who also works for the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, does research under a $286,568 National Science Foundation grant.

“But, under these circumstances, with the direct involvement of undergraduate researchers, it is particularly exciting,” he said. “Thea Kozakis and Laura Stevens analyzed the raw data from the telescope and identified the candidate exoplanet in their final processed image.”

The students nicknamed the planet “Derek” to keep the discovery secret until it could be independently verified. In classes and on campus, the planet is still called by that original nickname.

The discovery was made using the Subaru 8-meter telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. 

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