Hundreds of extrasolar planets have been detected in orbit around nearby stars. The discovery that some of these planets can be observed in transit has added an additional element of excitement to the quest for alien solar systems. Many amateur astronomers own telescopes which, when properly configured, are capable of reliably detecting the periodic dimming that occurs when a close-in giant planet passes in front of its parent star as seen from Earth. This technique has been used by amateurs worldwide to detect planetary transits.
In 2007, Transitsearch.org participants discovered that the planet HD 17156 b transits its parent star. This planet has a three-week orbital period, and was at that time by far the longest-period transiting planet discovered. More recently, in February 2009, Transitsearch.org observers participated in the discovery of the transit of HD 80606 b. This unusual world has by far the longest orbital period of any known transiting planet, and is a prime target for follow-up by large telescopes from ground and space.
In the coming months and years, small-telescope observers will continue to have the opportunity to make cutting-edge contributions to exoplanet research. Specific projects include: (1) The search for the first transiting giant planet in the habitable-zone of its parent star, (2) detection of perturbing companion planets via the technique of transit timing variations, and (3) support of the proposed NASA TESS mission (in which Transitsearch.org is now an official participant).
Although transiting Jupiter-sized planets can be observed using ordinary commercial-grade telescopes and CCD detectors, a great deal of dedication and patience is required. For the latest information on extrasolar planets, always visit oklo.org.
Last updated: December 05, 2009 10:16 PDT.
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