Student advice pays in finding of large planet Body is closer to host star than any found previously

September 24, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A university sophomore in England, corresponding by e-mail, volunteered advice to the two American astronomers with a knack for finding planets around stars beyond our solar system: Focus their planet search on 30 overlooked stars and they might HTC make further discoveries.

The astronomers agreed to look with the powerful Keck Observatory telescope in Hawaii. Sure enough, orbiting one of the student's candidate stars, 154 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus and designated HD187123, is a planet the size of Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system.

The new planet is closer to its host star than any found before, so close that a year on the sphere -- the time of a full orbit of the star -- is only three days.

The planet was one of two such discoveries announced yesterday by Dr. Geoffrey Marcy of San Francisco State University and Dr. Paul Butler of the Anglo-Australian Observatory near Sydney, Australia.

The detections bring to 12 the number of planets discovered beyond the solar system, all in the past three years.

Marcy and Butler are responsible for nine of the discoveries, but they made a point of sharing credit for the most recent one with Kevin Apps, an astrophysics student at the University of Sussex.

He "sifted out the stars that would have the best likelihood of harboring planets," Marcy said.

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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