Washington, September 29 (ANI): Taking the help of a telescope in Florida, astronomers have pinned down the extravagantly unusual orbit of HD 80606b, a Jupiter-sized planet nearly 200 light years away, which eclipsed its host star.
The astronomers made observations of the planet eclipsing its star from a 41-year-old telescope at the department's Rosemary Hill Observatory 30 miles west of Gainesville in Bronson.
The events of the night of June 4, 2009, proved that small, simple telescopes can play starring roles in making discoveries in space.
On that night, Knicole Colon, a UF astronomy doctoral student, and UF associate scientist and Rosemary Hill director Francisco Reyes, joined teams at about a dozen different observatories spread from Massachusetts to Hawaii to observe the planet eclipse its host star, HD 80606.
Astronomers noticed the eclipse for the first time in late February, but they only managed to observe the very end of it.
The planet completes one orbit around its star every 111 days, so the next chance for observation came on June 4.
The eclipse lasts nearly 12 hours, yet any single observatory can only observe it for a short time between twilight and when the planet and star disappear below Earth's horizon.
As a result, 25 astronomers worked together, relay-race fashion east to west, to capture the event.
Colon said that despite widespread clouds, she and Reyes located a reference star and zeroed in on HD 80606 just in time for the beginning of the eclipse.
The team caught only part of the event, but the next observatory, in Indiana, was able to pick up soon after.
All told, six observatories gathered about six hours of observations, capturing more than half of the eclipse.
"You are staring at a star as a planet crosses in front of it, which is pretty amazing," said Colon. "It's definitely a unique experience that you can't get from the remote observing that I do," she added.
Most planets orbit their stars in a more or less circular shape.
But, HD 80806b's orbit is an elongated ellipse, as though someone had grabbed its orbit and squeezed.
Astronomers were unsure of the cause of this comet-like orbit, but the leading theory was a companion star's gravitational pull.
By combining their observations of the eclipse, the team demonstrated the planet's orbit is not aligned with the star's otation, which suggests this theory is probably correct, according to Winn. (ANI)