Astronomers Find Saturn’s Possible Cosmic Doppelgänger
By analyzing the silhouette of an exoplanet passing in front of its parent star some 420 light years from Earth, a team of astrophysicists has discovered an exoplanet that just might turn out to be Saturn’s cosmicdoppelgänger.
Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Rochester University Eric Mamajek and graduate student Mark Pecaut studied data from the international SuperWASP (Wide Angle Search for Planets) and All Sky Automated Survey (ASAS) project.
They were looking at the star’s light pattern; periodic dimming is a telltale sign that a planet is passing in front of it. A spherical planet will dim a star’s light regularly. As seen from Earth, the star’s light will dim as the planet starts to cross it, getting darker until it reaches a point of maximum dimness – the point when the planet is directly between the Earth and the star. Then, the light will get brighter at the same pace as it previously dimmed.
But in December 2010, they noticed something odd. As they analyzed data gathered over a 54 day period in early 2007, the star 1SWASP J140747.93-394542.6 dimmed irregularly. The object passing in front of it couldn’t be a spherical planet, so what was it?