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UNITE All-Nighter Delights Amateur Astronomers
Maybe you read about them in the papers–amateur astronomers in Japan, Russia, France, Finland, and the United States have been pulling all-nighters to spot extraordinary exoplanets, planets orbiting stars other than the Sun.
NASA’s UNITE project holds these planetary stakeouts several times every month, and you can join in!
This October, the UNITE team undertook a 20-hour marathon as part of tracking a Saturn-sized planet called TOI-4600 c. They watched and waited, trying to see the planet’s star dim by about 1% as the planet passed in front of it.
Success would tell us that the planet takes a little more than one Earth year to orbit its star. It would place this planet on a short list of gas-giant planets known outside our own solar system that have sizes and temperatures similar to those of Saturn and Jupiter. Such planets are key laboratories for studying how our solar system was formed, so each new example is precious.
In mid-January, the UNITE team coordinated observations across Europe to catch the third-ever star-crossing event for a different planet. (The third one seen by humans, that is!) Once the team does catch it, they’ll know if it takes three Earth years to orbits its star, which would make it fairly cold planet, or something closer to 100 Earth days, telling us that the planet is relatively warm.
The final results of these observations remain closely-guarded secrets, but they will soon be released in an astronomy journal articles.
The Unistellar Network Investigating TESS Exoplanets (UNITE) project is a global team of volunteer telescope observers tracking down rare worlds in distant solar systems. Visit science.unistellaroptics.com and you can be part of the next UNITE discovery!