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New BEER for planet-hunters

17 May 2013, 14:08 UTC
New BEER for planet-hunters
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

BEER is not the solution to life’s problems, but it might help astronomers characterize new exoplanets.
As you probably surmised, BEER isn’t the beverage: it’s an observational technique standing for BEaming, Ellipsoidal, and Reflection/emission modulation. (That wins the award for the most awkward acronym I’ve seen in some time. As Mary Roach would say, it’s “an example of PLEASE—Pretty Lame Excuse for an Acronym, Scientists and Experimenters.”) The method looks for a fluctuation in the host star’s light due to motion caused by the gravitational pull of its planet, along with the tiny additional effects due to distortions in the star’s shape and the reflection off the exoplanet.
The BEER technique scored its first major victory: astronomers used it to determine a signal from Kepler observatory data was due to a planet and not some other source. (Kepler is probably dead, alas, but we’ll see results from its observations for many months or even years to come.) Previously BEER was used on previously detected exoplanets, but the sample is small — mainly because the signals BEER is designed to detect are themselves very small. The promise of BEER isn’t necessarily as a detection method, though. Instead, it opens up a ...

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