University of Louisville Magazine

FALL 2013

The University of Louisville Alumni Magazine: for alumni, faculty, staff, students and anyone that is a UofL Cardinal fan.

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Research Reaching for the stars and discovering a planet Discovering a planet — while a student — is quite an addition to Karen Collins' credentials. The physics doctoral student and former electrical engineer announced the discovery of exoplanet KELT-6b during the American Astronomical Society's 2013 meeting. The scientifc team she led found the hot, Saturnlike, gas-giant planet in another solar system 700 light-years away in the constellation Coma Berenices. Researchers from Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Lehigh Universities, as well as UofL Professor John Kielkopf and Collins at UofL's Moore Observatory, were among two dozen people involved in observing, analyzing and confrming the discovery of KELT-6b, which is lower in metals than the most studied exoplanet it resembles. By comparing planets, scientists hope to learn more about their atmospheres and the evolution of planetary systems. Ground-based KELT (Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope) instruments record huge swaths of night sky, and scientists search those images for periodic dimming that can indicate planets passing in front of their host stars. Then they use other telescopes to see which star is affected and how much it dims. Because of its lengthier transit time, observing KELT-6b took more patience and luck — and required seven hours of continuous telescope time with clear skies during darkness. Fortunately, Collins had clear skies on her only two chances to catch the planet this year using local telescopes. "She developed the technique that enabled her to make this precise measurement of the dimming of the star," Kielkopf said. "She didn't just sit down at the telescope…she had to develop the ways in which the instrument we had could extract this data." A NASA Kentucky Space Grant Consortium graduate fellowship supports Collins' work. "To signifcantly participate in this discovery while working on my PhD is just beyond what I ever could have thought possible," said Collins, who plans to graduate next year. Doctoral student Karen Collins (right) inspects the telescope used to discover a new planet. Also in the photo is physics/astronomy professor John Kielkopf, front, and researcher Jeff Hay. Rendering of exoplanet KELT-6b (left) and its star by Lexington-based Erin Plew with Queen of Arts LLC. 20|LOUISVILLE.EDU

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