The European Space Agency announced March 30 that its Gaia astronomical observatory had identified its first transiting exoplanet.
Launched in 2013, Gaia was tasked with collecting data to construct the largest and most precise 3D space catalogue comprising approximately 1 billion astronomical objects.
In order to ascertain if there is a planet orbiting a particular star, researchers look for periodic dimming events. These events indicate that a planet has passed between the star and the observatory.
Late last year, members of Unit 7 of the Gaia project’s Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC), a group of more than 400 researchers analyzing data from the observatory, discovered periodic dimming events from the solar-type star Gaia EDR3 3026325426682637824.
Following the discovery it was determined that although it could be an exoplanet, the periodic dimming events could also have been caused by a brown dwarf, a substellar object with a similar radius to a planet but of greater mass.
To validate DPAC Unit 7’s discovery, the teams involved enlisted the help of the Large Binocular Telescope’s (LBT) in Arizona high-resolution spectrograph PEPSI
Between December 23, 2020, and January 18, 2021, the team utilized the LBT’s high-resolution PEPSI spectrograph to observe the star’s “wobble”, a phenomenon caused by a transiting object. The size of the wobble could then be used to determine the mass and therefore the nature of the object identified by the DPAC Unit 7 team confirming their discovery.
The planet was identified as a Jovian planet, a gas planet composed of hydrogen and helium gas.
In January 2021 following the initial confirmation, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite confirmed the team’s findings observing similar periodic dimming events.
ESA’s Gaia space observatory had initially been designed to complete a five-year mission. In October 2020, the observatory’s mission received an extension to December 31, 2022. The announcement of the extension also revealed that an additional extension to 31 December 2025 was being considered with a decision expected in 2022.