Thursday, April 16, 2009

Kepler Catches TRES-2

You remember TRES-2, don't you? Just take a good look at the star known as GSC 03549-02811 and you can't miss it. That's because TRES-2 is an exoplanet and every 2.47 it passes directly between its parent star (GSC 03549-02811) and us. As it does it produces a sort of mini eclipse known as a transit.

Above is some artwork showing a transiting exoplanet. Why artwork? Astronomers can not actually see the exoplanet, just the dimming of the star caused by the planet as it passes in front of its parent star. Click here to see a graphic of what I am talking about.

TRES-2 gets its unique name from being the 2nd planet discovered as a part of TrES, the Trans-atlantic Exoplanet Survey. The planet was found by this network of three small-aperture telescopes, one of which was based at Palomar. The network was made up of: Sleuth (Palomar Observatory, Southern California), the PSST (Lowell Observatory, Northern Arizona) and STARE (Observatorio del Teide, Canary Islands, Spain).

Transits are all the rage for finding exoplanets and NASA's Kepler mission is banking on the success of this technique. One of the things that makes TRES-2 so exciting is that it is located in the same part of the sky that Kepler will be staring at. They hope to find many, many exoplanets, including Earth-sized worlds (which TRES-2 certainly isn't). Since the Kepler team already knows that TRES-2 is there they can use it as sort of a calibrator for finding unknown exoplanets.

The team released their first images today and you can see TRES-2's parent star (GSC 03549-02811) in all its glory.

By the way the little 4-inch Sleuth telescope is no longer in operation on Palomar, but it had a good run in helping to discover several exoplanets.

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