Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Solar System’s has Four New Neighbors

The number of worlds discovered around other stars is now counted in the thousands. But, if you were to go out on a dark night and try to spot those planet-hosting stars with your own eyes, you would struggle – only 6% of planets orbit stars bright enough for our eyes to pick out. This is especially true of transiting planets; those that pass in front of their star relative to our line of sight. Of more than 1000 such planets known, only one (55 Cancri) is bright enough to see in the night sky. That is, until today…

Position of HD219134 in Stellarium

HD 219134, nestled between Cassiopeia and Cephus, is remarkable in so many ways. It was first studied with HARPS-N, during it’s Rocky Planet Search. This instrument, a spectrograph on the TNG telescope in the Canary Islands, is able to measure the motion of stars so precisely that it can spot the to-and-fro wobble caused by planets.

Amazingly, this instrument found not just one but four planets around this star; a mini solar system just like our own. The outermost is a gas giant on a 3-year orbit, while the inner three are between the size of Earth and Neptune orbiting once every 3, 7 and 47 days.

And the prize for funkiest Colour scheme goes to...
And the prize for funkiest Colour scheme goes to…

ssc2015-02b_Inline[1]At this point, astronomers had no idea if these new worlds transited. But a planet on a 3-day orbit has pretty good odds to pass in front of its star so, taking control of the Spitzer space telescope, they pointed it and hoped. And sure enough, exactly when predicted, the innermost planet blocked out 0.036% of starlight. This fraction is just the surface area of the star covered up, giving a precise measure of the radius of the planet.

Now, with the mass of the planet measured by HARPS and the radius of the planet measured by Spitzer, it’s density can be found. While many similar sized worlds have turned out to be fluffy gas-balls rather than true super-Earths, a density of 5.89gcm-3 puts HD 219134b bang on Earth-like composition. If there was a surface, it’s gravity would be just under twice what we experience on Earth (18.8ms-3). With an orbit of only three days, though, the planet’s star-facing surface is likely to be hot enough to melt!


At only 20 light years away, the newly-discovered solar system around HD219134 is also the closest transiting exoplanet ever found, and one of the 20 closest bright star systems to our Sun. With transiting planets extremely rare, there’s even a chance that this could actually be the closest transiting planet around a bright star (K & G-type).

HD219134’s brightness is also important for astronomers. The brighter & closer a planet, the more interesting ways we can study it. For example, this new world has jumped to the top of the list for those trying to study exoplanet atmospheres. We can also measure the path it takes as it crosses it’s star to determine just how the planet orbits. The outer 3 planets might peturb the orbits of the inner one, causing detectable variations in transit timing (TTVs).

It has truly been a remarkable week for exoplanet astronomy, beginning with the discovery of habitable-zone super-Earth Kepler-452b, and now the detection of the brightest, closest, awesomest transiting planet ever found. And, thanks to a huge array of exciting follow-up options, this will not be the last you’ve heard of HD219134b,



Here’s how you can find the star in the sky (and a very neat animation of the transit):


The paper by Montelabi can be found on arXiv here

Other coverage includes:

Elizabeth Tasker’s piece on “The closest rocky planet ever has been found… so what?

Sci-News: HD 219134: Three Super-Earths Found Orbiting Star 21 Light-Years Away

Daily Mail: Star discovered with THREE Super-Earths, and one is the closest rocky planet ever found outside our solar system Read more: 

Wasp Planets… as Pokemon: A Chrome App

Scanning the list of new planets WASP has found (a large proportion of which are unpublished), it occurred to me that we are getting very close to 150 planets! It also occurred to me while making the Underground Map of Wasp planets (see next post), that our planet names are really boring.

An exoplanet Transit

So, to both fix the naming problem and celebrate the number of WASP planets, I have decided to turn all Wasp planets into the 150 original Pokemon! Working on Wasp-12 b? Nope – You’re working on Butterfree. Wasp-6? Charizard. Wasp-64? Machoke. Wasp-135 b? Jolteon. IAU eat you heart out…

And while I know this will be a difficult thing to achieve politically, we can at least achieve it indirectly, thanks to the magic of Chrome Apps! Unfortunately I don’t have time to make a completely self-contained app for this, but here’s 4 quick steps to follow to add a bit of early-naughties humour to exoplanet science:

  1. Open Chrome and go here to download ‘WordReplacer’
  2. Find Chrome’s ‘Settings’ menu, then the ‘Extensions’ tab, then find ‘Word Replacer’ and click on options.
  3. Open up this pastebin in another tab, and copy the text (it’s easiest from the “Raw paste data” box at the bottom). [BONUS: Kepler names replaced by 1920s baby names with this pastebin]
  4. Back on Word Replacer, click ‘Import’ and paste the text in. Finally, click Save Settings and you’re good to go!

Then you get to enjoy lists such as this; or papers such as this: PokemonPlanets PokemonPlanets2       . . . . EDIT: Bonus update. Now replace all Kepler planet names with the top 2000 baby names… from the 1920s! Say hello to planets Gertrude (Kepler-127), Salvatore (312) and Ruth (Kepler-11). Use this pastebin in place of the WASP-only one above to get both!