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It’s Possible to See Exoplanets Without Schmancy Equipment

A cheap DSLR and some light computer processing can unveil far off exoplanets

smithsonian.com

Exoplanet hunting is at the very forefront of science. Right now, some of the most powerful and precise telescopes in the world are peering across vast distances of space, watching for the faintest dip of light or wobble that could suggest the presence of another world. Seeing an exoplanet is high-tech, Big Science stuff. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing that can be done in the backyard with hacked together equipment. But, in fact, it is possible to detect an exoplanet with some simple gear and a little know-how.

Over at IEEE Spectrum, David Schneider walks through how to build an exoplanet-hunting rig using little more than a budget digital SLR camera, some scrap wood and an inexpensive programmable microprocessor.

In the past few decades scientists have so far discovered some 1,780 alien planets, with thousands of candidates waiting for confirmation. A backyard rig is unlikely to be powerful or precise enough to actually find anything new, but it is enough, as Schneider found out, to watch the subtle transit of an already known exoplanet.

You won't actually see the subtle shift in brightness caused by a transiting planet with the plain eye, says Schneider. But even such an inexpensive set-up can provide the raw data to make the calculations that unveil the exoplanet's existence. 

H/t Universe Today

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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