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What Did You Do in College? These Students Discovered a Planet

That’s right. These three undergraduates from Leiden University in the Netherlands discovered a planet, and not just any old planet. They’re the first to find one orbiting a fast-rotating star.Their class was developing algorithms that could automate a search through a database of star observations...

Francis Vuijsje, Meta de Hoon, and Remco van der Burg (left to right), courtesy of Leiden University


That’s right. These three undergraduates from Leiden University in the Netherlands discovered a planet, and not just any old planet. They’re the first to find one orbiting a fast-rotating star.

Their class was developing algorithms that could automate a search through a database of star observations. Their algorithm revealed that the brightness of one star decreased by one percent for about 2 hours every 2.5 days. Observations from the Very Large Telescope in Chile confirmed their discovery: the decrease in brightness was caused by a planet passing in front of the star.

The planet is about 5 times the size of Jupiter and orbits so close to its star (about 3 percent of the distance between the earth and Sun) that the planet is nearly 7000 degrees C at its surface—hotter than our Sun.

New planets have a strict naming convention, so this one is denoted OGLE2-TR-L9b. The students, however, have their own name—ReMeFra-1—in honor of the planet’s discovers, Meta de Hoon, Remco van der Burg and Francis Vuijsje. And the “1”? That’s in case they discover more.

ESO/H. Zodet)
About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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