USQ observatory helps discover new planet for the first time

THE University of Southern Queensland's MINERVA-Australis facility at Mount Kent has been involved in the discovery of an exoplanet for the first time.

A research paper published this week in the Astronomy and Astrophysics journal confirmed the existence of HD 1397b, a planet which orbits a bright G-type supergiant star, called HD 1397, in the constellation Tucana, about 250 light years from Earth.

Exoplanets are planets that are outside of our specific solar system (planets which orbit the sun).

The paper was a collaborate effort of 52 scientists from all over the world.

USQ PhD student Jake Clark, who is one of the co-authors of the paper, said it was the first time the USQ facility, which still has several of its telescopes under construction, had been involved in a confirmed exoplanet discovery.

"This planet is about the same size, but only half the mass of Jupiter," Mr Clark said.

"Being so close to its host star, the exoplanet's atmosphere has expanded out like an inflated balloon causing the planet to be a lot larger than it should be.

"Each year is only 11.5 days long, as it's incredibly close to its host star.

"The temperature on this planet is about 950 degrees, so if you want a tropical holiday this is the place to go.

"Future work is needed to characterise (what the exoplanet is made of), but it would be similar to the likes of Saturn and Jupiter, so hydrogen and helium would be my guess and some heavier elements as well."

Mr Clark said it took a team of astronomers from around the world, using several different observational facilities, to confirm the existence of HD 1397b.

"This planet was co-discovered by numerous people around the world, in Switzerland, America, in China, Australia," he said.

"All working together to achieve the same goal, to explore the universe and explore our galaxy, to find more planets than ever before."

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