Vanderbilt University / Julie Turner
This artist's rendering shows planet KELT-1b, which resides so close to its star that it completes a "yearly" orbit in a mere 30 hours.
updated 6/20/2012 12:36:56 PM ET 2012-06-20T16:36:56

Think of it as a win for the little guys. Astronomers using a small ground-based telescope have discovered two unusual alien planets around extremely bright, distant stars.

The two extrasolar planets are gas giant worlds detected using the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) in southern Arizona, which has a lens that is roughly as powerful as a high-end digital camera, the researchers said.

"KELT is slightly more diminutive than Kepler, but we like to think it's small but fierce," said Thomas Beatty, a doctoral student at Ohio State University in Columbus. NASA's Kepler space telescope is an orbiting observatory specially built to seek out distant planets.

Beatty presented the findings on June 13 at the 220th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Anchorage, Alaska.

Hot Jupiters revealed
One of the newly found planets, called KELT-1b, is a massive world that is both incredibly hot and dense. The alien planet, which is mostly metallic hydrogen, is slightly larger than Jupiter, but contains a whopping 27 times the mass. [ Gallery: The Strangest Alien Planets ]

These types of alien worlds are known as " hot Jupiters " because they are gas giant planets that orbit extremely close to their parent stars.

KELT-1b is so close to its host star that it completes one orbit in a mere 29 hours. Being this close to its star, the planet's surface temperature is likely above 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 2,200 degrees Celsius), in the process receiving 6,000 times the amount of radiation that Earth receives from the sun, Beatty explained.

"(It) resets the bar for weird," he said. "It's the sort of object that we would not have expected to find this close to its parent star."

KELT-1b is located about 825 light-years away in the constellation of Andromeda. The massive planet stood out to astronomers not only because of its close proximity to its parent star, but because of its unusual orbital dynamics.

"It's massive enough that KELT-1 has raised tides on its parent star and actually spun it up," Beatty said. "KELT-1 grabbed the star it's around, pulled it so it's spinning at the same rate, so now both KELT-1 and its parent star are locked in each other's gaze as they go around."

Auriga's alien world
The other newly identified planet is called KELT-2Ab, and is located about 360 light-years away in the constellation of Auriga. The alien world is 30 percent larger than Jupiter with 50 percent more mass.

  1. Space news from
    1. KARE
      Teen's space mission fueled by social media

      Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: "Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew.

    2. Buzz Aldrin's vision for journey to Mars
    3. Giant black hole may be cooking up meals
    4. Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online

This discovery more closely resembles other exoplanets found to date, except KELT-2Ab's parent star is so bright it can be seen from Earth through binoculars. In fact, the star is so luminous that researchers will be able to make direct observations of the planet's atmosphere by examining light that shines through it when the star passes within KELT North's field of view again in November.

Follow-up observations are also being planned using other ground-based instruments, as well as several space observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope.

"We want to look at what's going on in its atmosphere and its interior," Beatty said. "The reason why individual hot Jupiters like these are still interesting is because we still fundamentally do not understand what goes on inside them."

KELT-2Ab orbits a star that is slightly bigger than the sun, within a binary system called HD 42176. In this system, one star is slightly bigger than our sun, and the other star is slightly smaller. KELT-2Ab orbits the bigger star, which is bright enough to be seen from Earth with binoculars.

How they were found
Astronomers use KELT to find large planets orbiting very bright stars using the so-called transit method, which involves watching for tiny dips in the star's light that could indicate a planet is crossing, or transiting, in front.

Rather than staring at a small group of stars at high resolution, the twin KELT North and KELT South telescopes observe millions of very bright stars at low resolution, the researchers said. KELT North scans the northern sky from Arizona, while KELT South covers the southern sky from Cape Town, South Africa.

While NASA's prolific Kepler Space Telescope has identified roughly 2,300 alien planet candidates, the small ground-based KELT telescopes provide a low-cost alternative for exoplanet hunters by primarily using off-the-shelf technology. The hardware for a KELT telescope costs less than $75,000, the researchers said.

Follow Denise Chow on Twitter  @denisechow or @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

© 2013 All rights reserved. More from

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

loading photos...
  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments