Learn how to observe previously detected exoplanet candidates to help professional astronomers confirm their existence.
New planets are being discovered on a regular basis, but that’s only the beginning of the story! After new planets are identified, the scientific community needs to follow up with further investigations. Help scientists better understand the movements of these planets around other stars by taking your own measurements of known exoplanets and contributing them to the DIY Planet Search Community.
By using the MicroObservatory remote observing network and DIY tools, you can collect and analyze your own images of other star systems. You’ll begin your investigation by choosing a star, then you will measure its brightness. The measurements you make will produce a graph of data. Using your data, you will determine if you’ve detected a planet by looking for the telltale dip in your graph. To complete your investigation, you will compare, combine, and communicate your findings with others on the DIY Planet Search Community page.
The MicroObservatory remote observing network is composed of several 3-foot-tall reflecting telescopes, each of which has a 6-inch mirror to capture the light from distant objects in space. Instead of an eyepiece, the MicroObservatory telescopes focus the collected light onto a CCD detector (an electronic chip like that in a digital camera) that records the image as a picture file with 650 x 500 pixels.
The images contain valuable information about the amount of light reaching the telescope from each star. Even a small telescope, such as the MicroObservatory telescope you will be using, is sensitive enough to detect a 2 to 3% drop in the amount of light reaching the telescope when the image is taken. To detect a transiting planet, you must take a series of images that span the timeframe of the entire transit, measure the brightness of the star in each of those images, plot it on a graph of time versus brightness, and look for the telltale dip in brightness that is the signal of the distant world.