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This article was originally printed in the February 2006 issue of CLASnotes.

Planet ET-1 Discovered by UF Astronomer

Professor Jian Ge and the W.M. Keck ExoplanetTracker
Professor Jian Ge and the W.M. Keck Exoplanet
Tracker (photo courtesy Gainesville Sun)
against the backdrop of an artist’s rendition of
a very young, active star orbited by a planet
like the one recently discovered by UF
astronomer Jian Ge. Named ET-1, the planet is
one of the first companions ever found with a
star just 600 million years old (drawing courtesy
of P. Marenfeld and NOAO/AURA/NSF).

If there is life on distant planets in our universe, Astronomy Professor Jian Ge may very well be involved in its discovery.

Ge and his team of planet trackers have just confirmed the existence of a new planet and, thanks to an $875,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, finding life outside our solar system may not be so far behind.

Ge and colleagues within the department are in the process of building the world’s best planet tracker, which will increase the current planet survey speed by two orders of magnitude over traditional technology. Named the W.M. Keck Exoplanet Tracker, the researchers plan to use the new Doppler instrument to search roughly 1 million stars to detect thousands of planets and discover new solar systems where life may be possible. The tracker will be used at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico for the next two years, and the team is hoping to receive additional funding to extend the survey to 15 years.

On January 11, Ge and colleagues at UF, Pennsylvania State University, Tennessee State University, the University of Texas and the Institute of Astrophysics in Spain’s Canary Islands announced the discovery of a new planet orbiting a young star 100 light-years away, located in the direction of the constellation Virgo. The team used a single-object planet tracker located at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. The new Keck Exoplanet Tracker will allow for the observation of 60 objects at one time and look roughly 1000 light years into space, versus the current technology of 200 light years.

“Planet detection is a very challenging job,” Ge says. “We need high precision, therefore you aren’t able to look at many objects. This new instrument will allow us to get a much bigger sample and in 10 to 15 years we hope to have looked at a million stars. This is the first time this has ever been done in human history.”

Ge received his PhD in astronomy from the University of Arizona in 1998 and served as an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University before coming to UF in 2004. He and colleagues in the Sloan consortium at the Apache Point Observatory will collaborate on the largest ground-based astronomical survey in human history, in hopes of discovering thousands of new planets where life may be possible.

While planet ET-1—so named in part as an abbreviation for Exoplanet Tracker but also as a tribute to Steven Spielberg’s cinematic creature—is too close to its partner star to produce life, Ge is optimistic about finding life on at least one of the 10,000 planets his team hopes to discover.

“This is extremely important scientifically, but it is culturally important to the public as well,” he says. “We always wonder whether we are alone in the universe. This project is a huge step toward answering that question.”

—Buffy Lockette

Grants through the Division of Sponsored Research

November 2005: $2,525,189
Grants for October 2005

SASSAMAN JR K E; TORRENCE C

ANT

MARINER PROPERTIES DEV INC

$42,216

CHADWICK SITE TOPGRAPHIC MAPPING AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT

GONZALEZ A H

AST

CALIFORNIA INST OF TECHNOLOGY JET PROPULSION LABORATORY NASA

$65,777

LIFE BEFORE THE FALL: STAR FORMATION OF GLAAXIES IN GROUPS PRIOR TO CLUSTER ASSEMBLY AT Z-0.37

BOWES G E

BOT

MISCELLANEOUS DONORS UNRESTRICTED DONATION MULTIPLE SPONSORS

$1,200

MISCELLANEOUS DONORS

OPPENHEIMER D G

BOT

PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$175,262

THE FLORAL GENOME PROJECT: ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF THE FL GENETIC PROGRAM AND PHYLOGENETIC TOOLS FOR EVOLUTION AND

SCHUUR E A

BOT

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$5,520

REU SUPPLEMENT: COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH CLIMATE CONTROLS OVERECOSYSTEM RESPIRATION USING ISOTOPES TO DETERMINE THE SOURCE

SOLTIS D E; SOLTIS P S

BOT

PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$317,134

THE FLORAL GENOME PROJECT:ORIGIN & EVOLUTION OF THE FLORIDA GENETIC PROGRAM AND PHYLOGENETIC TOOLS FOR EVOLUTIONARY AND

BENNER S A

CHE

MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$203,022

DARWINIAN CHEMICAL SYSTEMS

BENNER S A

CHE

NASA

$200,536

RESURRECTING SRC HOMOLOGY 2 DOMANIS NEAR THE ORIGIN OF MULTICELULARITY

KATRITZKY A R

CHE

FLEXSYS AMERICA L P

$36,000

STRUCTURE ACTIVITY RELATIONSHIPS IN CISCOUS SUBSTANCES

OMENETTO N

CHE

ELSEVIER SCIENCE BV

$3,638

EDITORSHIP WITH ELSEVIER SCIENCE

REYNOLDS J R

CHE

EIC LABORATORIES INC U S AIR FORCE

$304,995

HIGH MOBILITY STABLE CROSSLINKED CONDUCTIVE POLYMERS

RICHARDSON D E

CHE

NATL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH NIGMS - GENERAL MEDICAL SCI

$3,096

THE BIOINORGANIC CHEMISTRY OF NICKEL: THE UREASES

LANE J S

CRI

DEPT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE U S DEPT OF JUSTICE

$30,554

EVALUATION OF FAITH AND COMMUNITY INITIATIVE

LANE J S; LANZA KADUCE L M

CRI

DEPT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE U S DEPT OF JUSTICE

$213,888

EVALUATION OF FAITH AND COMMUNITY INITIATIVE

GOULDING M; SMITH N J

GEOG

MACARTHUR FDTN, JOHN D & CATH

$267,273

MIGRATORY FISH MONITORING AND CAPACITY BUILDING PROJECT FOR THE MADRE DE DIOS RIVER OF SOUTHERN PERU

CHANNELL J E

GEOL

JOINT OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$8,022

UNDERGRADUATE SUPPLEMENT AWARD - MAGNETIC STRATIGRAPHY OF EXPEDITION 303 SEDIMENTS

NEUHOFF P S

GEOL

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$78,845

SITE SPECIFIC ENERGETICS OF WATER IN ROCK-FORMING ZEOLITES

PILYUGIN S; S NARANG A

MAT

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$58,541

ADAPTIVE DYNAMICS OF MACROBIAL POPULATIONS: PHYSIOLOGICAL MODELS OF GROWTH

ZAPLETAL J; CENZER D A

MAT

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$138,000

SPECIAL MEETING (SM): YEAR IN LOGIC AT THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

BAUDIS L

PHY

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$100,817

THE XENON DARK MATTER PROJECT: CONSTRUCTION AND UNDERGROUND DEPLOYMENT OF THE 1ST 100KG MODULE

SORKIN R D

PSY

U S AIR FORCE AFOSR

$154,823

INTERGOVERNMENTAL PERSONNEL ACT (IPA) ASSIGNMENT FOR DR. ROBERT SORKIN

BJORNDAL K A; BOLTEN A B

ZOO

U F FOUNDATION

$20,000

SEA TURTLE CONSERVATION

BOLTEN A B; BJORNDAL K A

ZOO

U S DEPT OF COMMERCE NATL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

$16,956

MANAGEMENT OF THE SEA TURTLE ONLINE BIBLIOGRAPHY

GUILLETTE JR L J; BERMUDEZ D S

ZOO

NATL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH NICHD - CHLD HLTH & HUMAN DEV

$400

MINORITY PREDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM

GUILLETTE JR L J; CHAPMAN J S

ZOO

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

$78,674

PREDICTORS OF PRIMATE ABUNDANCE: HOW POPULATIONS RESPOND TO STRESS

OSENBERG C W

ZOO

SPRINGER-VERLAG

$0

OECOLOGIA EDITORIAL OFFICE

 

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