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Qatari astronomer helps discover new planet

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The newly-discovered alien world Qatar-1b orbits an orange type K star 550 light-years from Earth. Photo by CfA (David A Aguilar)

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTES (BNS): Scientists have confirmed the existence of a new planet called Qatar-1b orbiting an orange Type K star 550 light-years away.

Dr Al Subai, leader of the Qatar exoplanet survey and a research director at Qatar Foundation teamed up with scientists from Universities of St Andrews, Leicester and Keele in the UK and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in the US to discover the new alien world.

Qatar's wide-angle cameras located in New Mexico were used to take images of the sky every clear night beginning in early 2010, a CfA release said.

The photographs then were transmitted to the UK for analysis by collaborating astronomers at St. Andrews and Leicester Universities and Qatar.

The Harvard-Smithsonian team with Subai followed up on the most promising candidates, making spectroscopic observations with the 60-inch-diameter telescope at the Smithsonian's Whipple Observatory in Arizona.

They also measured the stars' dimming more accurately with Whipple's 48-inch telescope.

Qatar-1b belongs to the "hot Jupiter" family because it orbits 2.2 million miles from its star - only six stellar radii away. It is a gas giant 20 percent larger than Jupiter in diameter and 10 percent more massive.

Qatar-1b roasts at a temperature of around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It circles its star once every 1.4 days, meaning that its "year" is just 34 hours long.

The planet spins on its axis once every 34 hours - three times slower than Jupiter, which rotates once in 10 hours.

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