Clement Gaillard spent three or four nights a week operating BYU’s Orson Pratt Observatory telescope in the summer of 2015. On the night of June 23, the physics undergrad pointed the telescope toward a star more than a thousand light years away, recording meticulous data and hoping. Soon after, physics professor Denise Stephens and a visiting student reduced the data and looked anxiously at the plot points they had gathered. On a six-hour timeline, the dots congregated along a straight line for two hours, dipped down for two, then popped back up through the end.
The “huge, beautiful baseline” they saw, said Stephens, hinted at what would soon be confirmed by a partnering institution: they had helped discover a massive exoplanet. The dip on their chart came when the star they observed was briefly shadowed by that planet.
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