Category Archives: WASP project

WASP’s “Super Saturn” feature for kids

The possible discovery of an exoplanet ring system, a “Super Saturn”, has featured in a Frontiers for Young Minds article aimed at scientists aged 8 to 15 years.

The suggestion of an exoplanetary ring system was an interpretation of the multiple dips in the lightcurve of a star, catalogued as 1SWASP J140747.93–394542.6, as observed in WASP-South data in 2007. The article gives a good introduction to the WASP project at an accessible level, complete with this image of the “Super Saturn”:

Illustration of the "Super Saturn" found in WASP data.

Congratulations to KELT-South on KELT-10b

KELT-South is a competitor to WASP-South, and indeed sits near WASP-South on the same plateau at SAAO’s Sutherland observatory site, performing a similar transit search.

KELT-South have just announced their first discovery, KELT-10b, a highly inflated planet that is larger than Jupiter (at 1.4 Jupiter radii) but less massive than Saturn (at 0.68 Jupiter masses). With WASP-South, HATSouth, KELT-South and the imminent NGTS, there are now four ground-based transit searches discovering planets in the Southern skies.

One advantage of the competition is that we can “reverse engineer” other teams’ planets to improve our own procedures. Indeed, trying to work out why we missed HAT and KELT planets has previously revealed bugs in our software.

Since we cover millions of stars the only way to look for transits is by automated search routines, but these throw up so many “false positive” detections that in the end we have to select candidates by eye. Humans are fallible, and it seems we simply overlooked KELT-10b. We have only relatively sparse data on it, fewer than 5000 photometric points, but, still, the presence of a transit dip at the correct period seems obvious enough once one knows that it is there. Here are the WASP-South data folded on the transit period, and the periodogram analysis revealing the periodic dip:

WASP data on KELT-10b

Congratulations to the KELT-South team on getting there first and on a fine discovery!

15-yr-old work-experience schoolboy discovers a new planet

Press release:

A 15-yr-old schoolboy has discovered a new planet orbiting a star 1000 light years away in our galaxy. Tom Wagg was doing work-experience at Keele University when he spotted the planet by finding a tiny dip in the light of a star as a planet passed in front of it.

“I’m hugely excited to have found a new planet, and I’m very impressed that we can find them so far away”, says Tom, now aged 17. It has taken two years of further observations to prove that Tom’s discovery really is a planet.

Tom found the planet by looking at data collected by the WASP project, which surveys the night skies monitoring millions of stars to look for the tell-tale tiny dips (transits) caused by planets passing in front of their host star.

Tom’s planet has been given the catalogue number WASP-142b, being the 142nd discovery by the WASP collaboration. It is in the Southern constellation of Hydra. While astronomers worldwide have now found over 1000 extra-solar planets, Tom is possibly the youngest ever to have done so.

“The WASP software was impressive, enabling me to search through hundreds of different stars, looking for ones that have a planet”, says Tom. The planet is the same size as Jupiter, but orbits its star in only 2 days. With such a short orbital period the transits occur frequently, making such planets much easier to find.

While the planet is much too far away to see directly, an artist’s impression shows how it might look. The hemisphere facing the star is hot, blasted by the irradiation from the star, while the other hemisphere is much cooler.

Tom Wagg at Keele Observatory 3.

Tom Wagg at Keele Observatory    (Click for high-res version; 3MB)

Tom, a pupil at Newcastle-under-Lyme School who has always been keen on science, asked for the work-experience week after learning that Keele University had a research group studying extra-solar planets.

“Tom is keen to learn about science, so it was easy to train him to look for planets”, says Professor Coel Hellier, who leads the WASP project at Keele. Tom has since achieved 12 GCSEs, all at A*, and wants to study physics at university.

The planet is one of a class of “hot Jupiter” planets, which — unlike the planets in our own Solar System — have very tight orbits close to their stars. They are thought to have migrated inwards through interactions with another planet. Thus it is likely that Tom’s planet is not the only planet orbiting that star.

Artist's impression of Tom's planet, WASP-142b, orbiting its star, WASP-142. The  planet is depicted as seen from a hypothetical moon. A second, dimmer star is seen in the background. Being 1000 light years away, the planet is too distant to  obtain a direct image.

An artist’s impression of the planet WASP-142b, depicted as seen from a hypothetical moon.
(Credit: David A. Hardy. http://www.astroart.org/)    Click for high-res version (1.5MB)

For more information email waspplanets@gmail.com

Updates: Coverage on about 300 news websites worldwide, including: BBC News, ITV News, CNN, TIME, Salon, Yahoo News, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Toronto Star, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, Der Spiegel, News Deutschland, India Today, IOL South Africa, France, Chile, Australia, Mexico, China, and Russia.

[Err, Wow!, successful press release! Now on about 650 news websites worldwide, about 205 in English, 59 in German, 48 in Spanish, 106 in Russian, 30 in Chinese, 23 in French, 20 in Italian, 40 in Turkish, 26 in Portuguese, 23 in Indonesian, 14 in Greek, 12 in Bulgarian, 11 in Hungarian, 8 in Polish, 4 in Slovakian, and others including Tamil, Vietnamese, Thai and Malayalam!]

RAS Gold Medal for Professor Michel Mayor

The Royal Astronomical Society has announced the award of a Gold Medal to Professor Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva. Prof. Mayor was, of course, the co-discoverer of the first extrasolar planet around a solar-like star, with the detection of 51 Pegasi b back in 1995. His Observatoire de Genève group developed a succession of planet-finding spectrographs that have led the way to the discovery of many hundreds of extrasolar planets.

Michel Mayor

Prof. Mayor has been an important collaborator for the WASP project, through the CORALIE spectrograph on the 1.2-m Swiss/Euler telescope at La Silla. The CORALIE spectrograph observes all WASP-South planet candidates, and the detection of the radial-velocity signature of a planet — in about 1 in 8 such candidates — is the crucial step that confirms a new planet discovery. Thus Prof. Mayor was a co-author on many of the early WASP planet papers until his retirement.

The WASP project is hugely indebted to Prof. Mayor and is honoured to have collaborated with him on WASP planet discovery. We congratulate him on the well-deserved award of the RAS Gold Medal.