Habitable Exoplanets Hack Chat

Twinkle, twinkle little star

Wednesday, January 15, 2020 12:00 pm PST Local time zone:
Hack Chat
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Alberto Caballero will host the first Hack Chat of 2020, on Wednesday, January 15.

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Many of the major scientific achievements of the last 100 years or so have boiled down to problems of picking out a signal from the noise. Think about analyzing the human genome, for instance: we each have something like two meters of DNA coiled up inside each cell in our body, and yet teasing out the information in a single gene had to wait until we developed sufficiently sophisticated methods like PCR and CRISPR. 

Similarly, albeit on the other end of the scale, the search for planets beyond our solar system wasn't practical until methods and instruments that could measure the infinitesimal affect a planet's orbit on its star were developed. Once that door was unlocked, reports of exoplanets came flooding in, and Earth went for being a unique place in the galaxy to just one of many, many places life could possibly have gotten a foothold. And now, the barrier for entry to the club of planet hunters has dropped low enough that amateur astronomers are getting in on the action.

Alberto Caballero is one such stargazer, and he has turned his passion for astronomy into an organized project that is taking a good, hard look at some of our nearest stellar neighbors in the hope of finding exoplanets in the habitable zone. The Habitable Exoplanet Hunting Project is training the instruments in 33 observatories around the globe on ten stars within 100 light-years, hoping to detect the faint signal that indicates an orbiting planet. They hope to add to the list of places worthy of exploration, both from Earth via optical and radio telescopes, and perhaps, someday, in person.

Join us on the Hack Chat with Alberto as we discuss the search for habitable exoplanets. We'll explore the project's goals, its successes thus far, and where it's going in the future. We'll also find out just what the amateur astronomer needs to get in on the action, and maybe even talk a little about why the search for "Earth 2.0" is so important.

Kepler-442b image credit: Ph03nix1986 [CC-BY-SA]

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 2

    Dan Maloney01/15/2020 at 21:04 0 comments

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:56 PM
    Btw given the topics you cover on your website , I would like to share a link to another project: Basically it's a DIY telescope specifically designed to discover exoplanets


    Home - Project PANOPTES

    PANOPTES is a citizen science project which aims to build low cost, robotic telescopes which can be used to detect transiting exoplanets.

    Read this on Projectpanoptes

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:57 PM
    I have no idea how to build it, and I think it's expensive , but the people interested in DIY projects might light like

    Just to get the thumbnail in the chat...

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:58 PM
    Yes, thank you

    That's actually really interesting - I'll have to check that out a little further.

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:59 PM

    TheExoplanetsChannel1:00 PM
    yeah, I remember asking them about the price and they said 5000 dollars per unit

    TheExoplanetsChannel1:00 PM
    so yeah to detect exoplanets one can buy less expensive equipment

    Here we are at the end of the hour already. I really enjoyed learning about this stuff - especially that I already have a telescope that's good enough for observing exoplanets! I'd like to thank Alberto for stopping by today, and let him get on with his evening if he needs to. Of course the Hack Chat is always open, so feel free to stick around and ask questions as long as Alberto can.

    TheExoplanetsChannel1:02 PM
    Thanks a lot for having me today. It was a pleasure to be here.

    Thanks Alberto! I'll be posting a transcript of the chat online soon. And I want to remind everyone that next week we'll be talking about Austere Engineering with Laurel Cummings:

  • Hack Chat Transcript, Part 1

    Dan Maloney01/15/2020 at 21:03 0 comments

    OK everyone, let's get started. Welcome to the first Hack Chat of 2020! We had a long holiday hiatus there, but we're ready to go again, and I'm happy to have Alberto Caballero from the Habitable Exoplanets Hunting Project here today. He's going to tell us all about a citizen science effort to find nearby planets that might support life.

    Joshua Johnson12:01 PM

    Alberto, can you tell us a little about your background and how you got interested in this?

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:02 PM
    Sure. Basically I have been an amateur astronomer for around 5 years.

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:03 PM
    But I became interested in the detection of exoplanets just a couple of years ago.

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:05 PM
    Initially, I bought a tele-photo lens and an astronomical camera to learn transit photometry, that is, the detection of exoplanets by searching for changes in the brightness of stars

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:05 PM
    But at some point I realized that my equipment wasn't enough to search for potentially habitable exoplanets

    It seems like something you'd need millions of dollars of equipment for. How can amateur instruments actually be useful for something like that?

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:07 PM
    Exactly. Many people, even amateur astronomers, still believe that it's not possible to detect exoplanets with amateur equipment.

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:08 PM
    I would say it depends on what type of exoplanet we want to detect. Anybody with a small tele-photo lens, a DSLR camera and an astronomical mount can detect gas giants, which are the biggest exoplanets.

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:10 PM
    The idea is to attach the camera to the lens, gather data (the light coming from the star) and search for changes in the brightness of the star

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:10 PM
    When exoplanet 'passes' between us and the star, the software will register that change in brighteness.

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:10 PM
    Of course a computer is also needed to process the data.

    That just blows my mind that off-the-shelf gear is sensitive enough to watch a star a hundred light years away go slightly dimmer when a planet passes in front of it.

    anfractuosity12:11 PM
    very intriguing! my astronomy isn't great, but would that also detect things like pulsars etc.?

    anfractuosity12:13 PM
    also are you processing video in realtime?

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:13 PM
    Well, I would say pulsar are more difficult to detect with amateur equipment.

    anfractuosity12:13 PM

    anfractuosity12:13 PM
    i'm curious what software you're using

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:14 PM
    I wouldn't say it's impossible thoughl

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:15 PM
    I don't usually process images in realtime.

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:15 PM
    I usually spend the night taking images, and then I process all the data the next day.

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:15 PM
    Yes, I like to use AstroImageJ for processing.

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:16 PM
    It's a free program and very easy to use

    anfractuosity12:16 PM
    cool, i've not heard of that program, will have a look. So do you use something like an intervalometer (sp?) that takes a single photo at a certain interval?

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:17 PM
    Btw with respect to the last question , I would say that pulsars could be detected with amateur radio telescopes.

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:18 PM
    Well, I set the imagining intervals in the software settings.

    anfractuosity12:18 PM
    ah gotcha, do you use a special firmware then i guess (i've got a canon dslr, but it can't do that by default)

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:19 PM
    To image, I use a software different than the program I use to process the data.

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:19 PM
    As far as I'm concerned, no special firmware.

    anfractuosity12:20 PM
    ah but you mentioned software, is the camera attached to a laptop then?

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:20 PM
    Yes, I also plug the camera into the laptop

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:21 PM
    I have an astronomical camera called ZWO ASI 120 MM

    anfractuosity12:21 PM
    ahh gotcha

    TheExoplanetsChannel12:21 PM
    If I had a DSLR, no laptop...

    Read more »

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Ken Yap wrote 01/15/2020 at 00:12 point

A 17 year old NASA intern found an exoplanet recently:

Many exoplanet MOOCs are available, like this one: I took this one by UNIGE some years ago but it's not offered anymore

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