Automated Telescope ‘Goes Planet Shopping’, Discoverers New Planetary System

posted: 04/29/15
by: Discovery.com Staff
Automated Planet Finder Telescope
Laurie Hatch

Using a cutting-edge automated telescope, astronomers have located a planetary system a mere 54 light-years away from Earth.

The telescope, known as the Automated Planet Finder (APF), has been programmed to robotically search for planets on clear nights without human oversight. It is part of the University of California's Lick Observatory.

"We initially used APF like a regular telescope, staying up all night searching star to star. But the idea of letting a computer take the graveyard shift was more appealing after months of little sleep. So we wrote software to replace ourselves with a robot," remarked University of Hawaii graduate student BJ Fulton in a news release.

New planetary system
Karen Teramura and BJ Fulton, UH IfA

The new planetary system is comprised of three exoplanets that orbit HD 7924, a star located in the constellation Cassiopeia. The first evidence of a planet orbiting HD 7924 came in 2009; it then took astronomers five more years to locate the subsequent two planets.

Telescope automation is still in its infancy; University of Hawaii is developing two new state-of-the-art automated facilities.

"This level of automation is a game-changer in astronomy. It's a bit like owning a driverless car that goes planet shopping," added University of Hawaii astronomer Andrew Howard.

Click here for more information from the University of Hawaii

APF photo courtesy Laurie Hatch Photography

Learn more about telescopes:

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The Discovery Channel Telescope: Watchdog Telescope

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