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Cooperative Planets

August 31, 2022

It takes a village to discover and learn the details about a new planet. Consider TOI-532b. It was discovered using HPF — the Habitable-zone Planet Finder — an instrument attached to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory. A dossier then was compiled by HPF, a space telescope known as TESS, and several smaller telescopes on the ground. It took dozens of astronomers at many organizations to make it work.

Astronomers have confirmed more than 5,000 planets in other star systems. There are several ways to find them, with different instruments and telescopes for each technique. It takes time and more instruments to fill in the details.

HPF participates in both sides of the work. It’s designed to find planets orbiting cool, faint stars. But it also follows up discoveries made by TESS. TOI-532 is one of many collaborations.

The system is about 440 light-years away. The star is cooler, smaller, and much fainter than the Sun. The planet, TOI-532b, is a half-dozen times the diameter of Earth, and more than 60 times Earth’s mass. That puts it in a special category, between Jupiter and Neptune, two giants of the solar system.

TOI-532 is in Orion, which is high in the southeast at dawn. The star is just above bright orange Betelgeuse, which marks the hunter’s shoulder.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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