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Orbits Fast-rotating Hot Star

Three undergraduate students, from Leiden University in the Netherlands, have discovered an extrasolar planet. The extraordinary find, which turned up during their research project, is about five times as massive as Jupiter. This is also the first planet discovered orbiting a fast-rotating hot star.

The students were testing a method of investigating the light fluctuations of thousands of stars in the OGLE database in an automated way. The brightness of one of the stars was found to decrease for two hours every 2.5 days by about one percent. Follow-up observations, taken with ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, confirmed that this phenomenon is caused by a planet passing in front of the star, blocking part of the starlight at regular intervals.

According to Ignas Snellen, supervisor of the research project, the discovery was a complete surprise. “The project was actually meant to teach the students how to develop search algorithms. But they did so well that there was time to test their algorithm on a so far unexplored database. At some point they came into my office and showed me this light curve. I was completely taken aback!”

The students, Meta de Hoon, Remco van der Burg, and Francis Vuijsje, are very enthusiastic. “It is exciting not just to find a planet, but to find one as unusual as this one; it turns out to be the first planet discovered around a fast rotating star, and it’s also the hottest star found with a planet,” says Meta. “The computer needed more than a thousand hours to do all the calculations,” continues Remco.

The planet is given the prosaic name OGLE2-TR-L9b. “But amongst ourselves we call it ReMeFra-1, after Remco, Meta, and myself,” says Francis.

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