Massive Dataset of Stars Revealed to Search for Exoplanets

"This is an fantastic 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", Jennifer Burt, a postdoctoral fellow in MIT's Kavli Institute for astrophysics and space research, and a member of the team involved in compiling the data, said in a statement released Monday. There's also a handful of tutorials available to give you a crash course in combing the numbers for useful observations.

"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. HIRES is created to split a star's incoming light into a rainbow of color components. "We're trying to shift toward a more community-oriented idea of how we should do science, so that others can access the data and see something interesting".

The Keck data spans two decades, which is more than enough time to separate out the signal, and the data covers so many star systems that it could potentially contain evidence for thousands of new exoplanets.

The 1,600 candidates in the data set are all within 100 parsecs of Earth (that's around 325 light years), and individual observations last from 30 seconds to 20 minutes.

By making the data public, the team is offering unprecedented access to one of the largest exoplanet searches in history. The instrument has recorded nearly 61,000 observations, each lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 20 minutes, depending on how precise the measurements needed to be.

Among all those candidates, they've confirmed the existence of one exoplanet orbiting GJ 411, the fourth closest star to our sun. When a planet orbits a star, the planet's gravity causes the star to wobble a little bit.

The researchers have been busy combing through the data collected by HIRES and have recently detected more than 100 potential exoplanets. The planet has a very short orbital period of just under 10 days, so it is no Earth-twin. The dataset has over 61,000 measurements of 1,600 nearby stars. These changes are determined by slight modifications which take place in the velocity of a star. "The dataset includes the date, the velocity we measured, the error on that velocity, and measurements of the star's activity during that observation", Burt says. The data is formatted to import into the Systemic Planet Fitting package. If you're interested in discovering your very own alien planet, you can find the data and instructions on the team's website here.

The catalogue release is part of a growing trend in exoplanet science to broaden the audience and discovery space, which has emerged in part to handle the aftermath of follow-up discoveries by NASA's Kepler and K2 missions.


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