(Super)WASP factory finds 10 planets in 6 months (Forwarded)



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CONTACTS:

Dr Don Pollacco
Astrophysics Research Centre
School of Mathematics and Physics
Queen's University Belfast
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Belfast BT7 1NN
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Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 3512

Dr Ian Skillen
Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes
Correos 321
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Canary Islands
Spain
Tel: +34 922 425439

Dr Coel Hellier
Astrophysics Group
School of Physical and Geographical Sciences
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Keele University
Staffordshire ST5 5BG
UK
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Dr Richard West
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Leicester
University Road
Leicester LE1 7RH
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Dr Carole Haswell
Department of Physics and Astronomy
The Open University
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Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
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Dr Leslie Hebb
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of St Andrews
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St Andrews
Fife KY16 9SS
UK
Tel: +44 (0)1334 461674

EMBARGOED UNTIL 0001 BST, 1 April 2008

Ref.: PN 08/17 (NAM 08)

The (Super)WASP factory finds 10 planets in 6 months

In the last 6 months an international team of astronomers have used two
batteries of cameras, one in the Canary Islands and one in South Africa,
to discover 10 new planets in orbit around other stars (commonly known as
extrasolar planets). The results from the Wide Area Search for Planets
(SuperWASP) will be announced by team member Dr Don Pollacco of Queen's
University Belfast, in his talk at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM
2008) on Tuesday 1 April.

Scientists have found more than 270 extrasolar planets since the first one
was discovered in the early 1990s. Most of these are detected through
their gravitational influence on the star they orbit -- as it moves the
planet pulls on the star, tugging it back and forth. However, making these
discoveries depends on looking at each star over a period of weeks or
months and so the pace of discovery is fairly slow.

SuperWASP uses a different method. The two sets of cameras watch for
events known as transits, where a planet passes directly in front of a
star and blocks out some of the star's light, so from the Earth the star
temporarily appears a little fainter. The SuperWASP cameras work as
robots, surveying a large area of the sky at once and each night
astronomers have data from millions of stars that they can check for
transits and hence planets. The transit method also allows scientists to
deduce the size and mass of each planet.

Each possible planet found using SuperWASP is then observed by astronomers
working at the Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma, the Swiss Euler
Telescope in Chile and the Observatoire de Haute Provence in southern
France, who use precision instruments to confirm or reject the discovery.

45 planets have now been discovered using the transit method, and since
they started operation in 2004 the SuperWASP cameras have found 15 of them
-- making them by far the most successful discovery instruments in the
world. The SuperWASP planets have masses between a middleweight 0.5 and a
huge 8.3 times that of Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System. A
number of these new worlds are quite exotic. For example, a year on
WASP-12B (its orbital period) is just 1.1 days. The planet is so close to
its star that its daytime temperature could reach a searing 2300 degrees
Celsius.

Dr Pollacco is delighted with the results. "SuperWASP is now a
planet-finding production line and will revolutionise the detection of
large planets and our understanding of how they were formed. It's a great
triumph for European astronomers."

FURTHER INFORMATION (INCLUDING IMAGES):

* SuperWASP Project website
http://www.superwasp.org

* Images of the SuperWASP Cameras

1) A close up of the 8 SuperWASP-North cameras
http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/~dlp/SWASP_1.jpg
2) An aerial view of the SuperWASP-North cameras (courtesy of Damon
Hart-Davis, http://d.hd.org/)
http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/~dlp/SWASP_2.jpg
3) The SuperWASP-South instrument
http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/~dlp/SWASP_3.jpg

* Image of the Euler (Swiss) Telescope dome
http://www.cosmograil.org/images/euler-dome.jpg

* Image of the SOPHIE spectrograph at the Observatoire de Haute Provence
http://www.obs-hp.fr/www/guide/sophie/sophie.html

NOTES FOR EDITORS

The SuperWASP cameras are operated by a consortium including the Isaac
Newton Group on La Palma, the Instituto Astrofisica Canarias, the
University of Keele, the University of Leicester, the Open University,
Queen's University Belfast and St Andrew's University.

Follow up [observations] of SuperWASP exoplanet candidates are obtained at
the Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma, the Swiss Euler Telescope at La
Silla, Chile (in collaboration with colleagues at Geneva Observatory) and
at the 1.93-m telescope of the Observatoire de Haute-Provence in France
(in collaboration with colleagues at the Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris
and the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille).

The SuperWASP cameras in La Palma and South Africa are operated with
funding provided by the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council
(STFC).

The RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008) is hosted by Queen's
University Belfast. It is principally sponsored by the RAS and the Science
and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). NAM 2008 is being held together
with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and
Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) spring meetings.


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