RISING STARS

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Science  19 Dec 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5909, pp. 1765
DOI: 10.1126/science.322.5909.1765d

BEGINNER'S LUCK. An undergraduate astronomy project over spring break at Leiden University in the Netherlands has produced otherworldly results for Francis Vuijsje, Meta de Hoon, and Remco van der Burg (left to right in photo).

CREDIT: LEIDEN UNIVERSITY

Their assignment was to develop a search algorithm to detect periodic dimmings in a database of stellar brightness measurements. But when they tested the algorithm by linking PCs in vacant faculty offices for enhanced computing power, they discovered what appeared to be an extrasolar planet.

Their work was confirmed later in the year by the European Very Large Telescope in Chile, which revealed the planet to be five times as massive as Jupiter and orbiting the hottest star ever found to have planets (arxiv.org/abs/0812.0599). “I never thought they would actually find something,” says Ignas Snellen, the students' adviser.

The students have christened the planet ReMeFra after their first names, although its official designation is OGLE2-TR-L9b. It's unclear whether the students will pursue careers in the field of exoplanets. Says Vuijsje: “Astronomy has so many interesting topics.”

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