Not possible to do exploratory research on exoplanets with amateur Earth based telescopes

Detecting exoplanets in faraway solar systems is one of the hot topics in planetary science and exoplanets research, and is usually achieved with expensive space based and Earth-based telescopes. Specifically, a variety of methods such as transit and radial velocity detection have been successfully used in detecting small perturbations in the parent star luminosity and orbital period for detecting the presence of exoplanets.


In general, given the long duration in which planets revolves around the star, the ability to observe a transit event in which the exoplanet pass by the parent star is rare, and thus require precise positioning of the spacecraft pointing at specific portions of the universe. Such precision in positioning requires the use of dedicated spacecraft able to maintain its relative observation position with the star system under investigation.


Exoplanets are typically found in solar systems at least a couple of light years away from Earth, and given the long duration nature of exoplanet observation, it is almost impossible for Earth-based amateur telescopes to conduct exoplanet research via the transit method. Why? This comes about due to distortion of light as it passed through the atmosphere, and the difficulty of observing faraway astronomical objects in distant galaxies with high accuracy and resolution with a telescope enveloped by the Earth’s atmosphere.


On the other hand, possibility exists of detecting exoplanets in distant solar systems via the radial velocity method, which could be implemented by Earth-based large dimeter telescopes at major observatories around the world. Overall, amateur astronomy is certainly able to make significant contributions to our understanding of the universe; however, its relative lack of high optical resolution and the problem of atmospheric distortion of light from distant objects preclude or deeply hampers its use in observing exoplanets through the transit method. Specifically, detecting exoplanets by observing a reduction in light luminosity when a planet pass by the parent star requires a level of precision in observation accuracy and resolution not available in Earth-based amateur telescopes.


Category: space exploration,

Tags: exoplanets, transit method, radial velocity, Kepler spacecraft, luminosity,


Acknowledgement: Ng Wenfa thank Seah Kwi Shan for co-authoring this blog post.




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