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


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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