Magazine article USA TODAY

Discovering Earth's Nearest Neighbors

Magazine article USA TODAY

Discovering Earth's Nearest Neighbors

Article excerpt

A team of astronomers using ground-based telescopes has discovered a planetary system orbiting a nearby star that is only 54 light-years away. All three planets orbit their star at a distance closer than Mercury orbits the sun, completing their orbits in just five, 15, and 24 days, respectively

Astronomers from the University of Hawaii, Manoa; University of California, Berkeley; University of California Observatories,

Hamilton; and Tennessee State University, Nashville, found the planets using measurements from the Automated Planet Finder (APF) Telescope at Lick Observatory in California, the W.M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii, and the Automatic Photometric Telescope (APT) at Fairborn Observatory in Arizona.

The new APF facility offers a way to speed up the planet search. Planets can be discovered and their orbits traced much more quickly because APF is a dedicated facility that robotically searches for planets every clear night. Training computers to run the observatory all night, without human oversight, took years of effort by the University of California Observatories staff and graduate students on the discovery team. …

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