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UCLO News and Events 2009

All the Dead Stars

UCL Slade School graduate Katie Paterson and Professor Ofer Lahav discuss the nature of `dead' stars.

Katie Paterson's latest work is a map of `dead stars' - 27,000 that have so far been observed and recorded. Her work was featured in the Altermodern exhibition at Tate Britain.

Visit www.tate.org.uk/tateshots/ to see Katie and Ofer at UCLO discussing her work.

Exocafe Review: Wed June 3

Dr. Steve Fossey is organising an event at UCLO to review the progress and future of the ExoCafe project, an undergraduate exoplanet-monitoring project which has been running over the last year.

The event will take place from 1430 on Wednesday, June 3, at UCLO. It will be followed by an informal reception, with refreshments, from about 1730.

The afternoon will consist of a few talks on the science of extrasolar planets, information on undergraduate opportunities for observing over the summer, and other ways to contribute to the ExoCafe project. There should be lots of opportunity for informal discussion.

UCL students interested in attending should send an email to Steve Fossey (sjf AT ulo.ucl.ac.uk).

Some more information about ExoCafe is given here.

UCLO in the news: HD 80606b

The RAS has issued a press release on the observation of a planetary transit of HD 80606b, made by UCL undergraduates at UCLO on Feb 13-14.


The story has been picked up by several news media, including:

More news and information about HD 80606b and the discovery of its transit can be found at:


For more information on the HD 80606b story, contact Steve Fossey (sjf AT ulo.ucl.ac.uk).

Press-release images of HD 80606b

For press-release images related to HD 80606b, see below; click on the thumbnails and links to access higher-resolution images.

Plan view of the orbit of HD 80606b.
The position of the planet is shown at 1-day intervals, close to the moment of close approach (periastron), where the high eccentricity of the orbit brings the planet 10 times closer to its parent star than Mercury's close approach to our own Sun. The primary transit occurs when the planet moves into the line of sight to the star, as viewed from Earth, and was observed by UCL astronomers and students on the night of Feb. 13/14, 2009.
Credit: S. Fossey (UCL)/G. Laughlin (Univ. California at Santa Cruz)

The geometry of the transit of HD 80606b on 2009 February 13/14, as viewed from Earth.
The observations made by the UCL team were able to demonstrate that HD 80606b is about the same size of Jupiter, and that the transit was almost grazing - that is, it crossed the line of sight from Earth quite close to the limb of the star. Although it was only possible to capture about 8 hours of the full transit from UCLO, it was concluded that the total transit was about 12 hours long.
Credit: G. Laughlin (Univ. California at Santa Cruz)/S. Fossey (UCL)

Steve Fossey, 16 April 2009
For more information, email: sjf AT ulo.ucl.ac.uk

Atmospheric simulations of HD80606b (UC Santa Cruz)

The following images and movies show atmospheric simulations of HD 80606b by astronomers at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

They have been taken, with permission, from the Spitzer Space Telescope press-release pages, where full captions and details are provided.


Atmospheric simulation of exoplanet HD 80606b.
These computer-generated images chart the development of severe weather patterns on the highly eccentric exoplanet HD 80606b during the days after its closest approach to its parent star.
The images were produced by computer simulations that modeled NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope's measurements of heat radiating from the planet. The blue glow of the crescent is starlight that has been scattered and reflected by the planet. The starlight appears blue because the planet is a very efficient absorber of red light. The night side appears reddish orange as it glows with its own internal heat.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/J. Langton (UC Santa Cruz)
Screen (750x600) JPEG (124 KB) | Medium (1500x1200) JPEG (188 KB) | High (3000x2400) JPEG (1.5 MB) | High-res TIFF (2.8 MB)


Atmospheric simulation of HD 80606b
This animation shows a computer simulation of the planet HD 80606b from an observer located at a point in space lying between the Earth and the HD 80606 system. The animation starts 2.2 days before the moment of close approach and ends 8.9 days later. The blue areas are reflected starlight (the blue color arises mainly from absorption by sodium and potassium in the planetary atmosphere). Red regions are areas of the planet that are glowing with their own intrinsic heat.
Movies: QuickTime 6.0 (5.3 MB) | MPEG 4 (3 MB)
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/D. Kasen (UC Santa Cruz)

April 3: Spring Moonwatch at UCLO for International Year of Astronomy

UCL's Mill Hill Observatory is holding an open evening on Friday April 3, 18:30-20:30 (last admissions), as part of the International Year of Astronomy Spring Moonwatch.

Tours - which will include an opportunity to view the Moon if weather permits - will set out every 20 minutes and last about an hour. Visitors will be admitted in small groups on a first-come, first-served basis; experience suggests there may be some queuing.

(Sunset is around 19:30, but this should not deter visitors with small children from coming earlier in the evening.)

Note that there is NO PARKING at the Observatory; public parking is available nearby in Daws Lane (next door to the Garden Centre).

New transiting planet observed from UCLO

We are pleased to report that we have made one of the first detections of the transit of the `weird' extrasolar planet HD 80606b using UCLO's telescopes. A research paper on the detection has been submitted to the Monthly Notices of the RAS, and a preprint can be downloaded here (S. J. Fossey, I. P. Waldmann and D. M. Kipping, "Detection of a transit by the planetary companion to HD 80606").


Press-release images:


Dr. Greg Laughlin, who co-ordinated a global observing campaign on HD80606b via his web site oklo.org, noted on his site, "It's certainly been a long time since an observational astronomical discovery of this magnitude has been made from within the London City Limits ...".

The planet HD 80606b is one of the 'weirdest worlds' to have been directly detected in a transit. The planet follows the most distant orbit for a 'transiting planet' yet discovered, and its orbit is also the most eccentric (at a value of 0.93). This means it orbits the parent star more like a solar-system comet than a normal planet, moving in a couple of months from just inside the 'habitable zone' of its parent star, to plunge close to the star to experience an 800-fold increase in irradiation.

The work at UCLO was done in a large part by UCL undergraduates in a collaboration set up by Dr. Steve Fossey called ExoCafe. The observers on the night of Feb 13/14, when the transit occurred, were Ingo Waldmann, Maria Duffy, Stephen Fawcett, Yilmaz Gul and Cherry Ng, all undergraduate students taking courses in the Dept of Physics and Astronomy at UCL.

Ingo, a 4th-year Natural Sciences MSci student at UCL, is the paper's second author, and obtained and reduced the observations as part of his final-year project. The final author is Dave Kipping, a postgraduate student at UCL who used an eccentric-orbit modelling code to perform an elegant analyis of the transit results. These results permit us to gauge the size of the planet - it turns out to be similar to Jupiter in size - and to refine the orbit tightly.

The detection was made using two of UCLO's smaller telescopes which are well set up for this kind of photometry - a 35-cm Celestron and a 25-cm Meade telescope. Careful observation, and rigorous calibration and data-reduction procedures, enable us to contribute important results in observational astrophysics, even from London.

Visit oklo.org and exoplanet.eu for the latest updates and news of other astronomers who reported observations of this event.

Dr. S.J. Fossey, London, 26 Feb 2009