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2007 Star Discovery

Clockwise, the Southern Cross is prominently displayed on Australia's flag, with beta Crucis just right of the Union Jack; an optical image of the Southern Cross, with beta Crucis indicated by the yellow rectangle and its newly discovered companion shown at the lower left; the Chandra image is color coded, with high energy x-rays colored blue, medium energy x-rays colored green, and lower energy x-rays colored red.

A research team led by Associate Professor of Astronomy David Cohen discovers a previously unknown companion to the bright star, beta Crucis, in the Southern Cross. As a prominent member of the well-known constellation Crux, or the Southern Cross, it appears on five national flags: Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa. The companion star was discovered accidentally while the research team was using the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory to study the x-rays emitted by beta Crucis itself. Astrophysics major Michael Kuhn '07 announced the discovery at the American Astronomical Society meeting held in Seattle that January. 

In 2012, Cohen and Associate Professor of Astronomy Eric Jensen contributed to the discovery of two new planets by tracking stars' brightness from the Van de Kamp Observatory. Both work in collaboration with the KELT Transit Survey based at Vanderbilt University and Ohio State University, whose mission is to discover new planets using a method that involves monitoring stars' brightness over time. They are particularly interested in dips in brightness of roughly one percent, a potential indicator of a planetary eclipse.

According to Jensen, the odds aren't in their favor. "I'd say about 99 percent of the time, it's not a planet," Jensen says.