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SPACE & SCIENCE NEWS: January 2003
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Record-breaking extrasolar planet Jan 8, 2003


artist conception of extrasolar planet
Record-breaking extrasolar planet
(Jan 8, 2003)


Astronomers have discovered the most distant known extrasolar planet, a "hot Jupiter"-type world orbiting a star about 5,000 light-years away. It was detected photometrically, in other words by dips in the light curve as the planet transits across the face of its star, during a survey as part of the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE). The planet, dubbed OGLE-TR-56b, is only the second one that has been seen to pass in front of its host star as seen from Earth. The first, HD 209458b, was detected in 1999. Astronomers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics announced the discovery of OGLE-TR-56b at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. A planetary transit is a rare thing, requiring a precise alignment. But when it does occur it enables many details about the planet to be discovered than is possible by other means. OGLE uses a telescope in Chile to monitor a crowded starfield in the direction of the galactic center. Follow-up observations of candidate stars that appeared to dim as a result of a planet were carried out from the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. OGLE-TR-56b orbits its parent star every 29 hours, closer than Mercury is to the Sun, and is about 2.6 times the size of Jupiter, yet weighs slightly less, giving it a density similar to Saturn. Two more OGLE candidates are also probably planets.

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