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Saturday, January 31, 2009

See an Exoplanet in Your Telescope!


Around a star slightly smaller than our own sun, about 200 light-years away, orbits a very odd, very big, and very hot planet known as HD80606b. The thing that makes this planet so odd is its highly eccentric orbit (with an eccentricity of 0.93). HD80606b's eccentric orbit takes it very close to its parent star at its lowest point in orbit, about 0.03 AU. During this period of close approach, the planet's atmosphere rises over 1,000 degrees F (555 degrees C) in about 4 hours! Talk about some bad weather! Of course, this enormous temperature swing causes massive storms called shockwave storms, since their winds would be faster than the speed of sound!

So How Could I Possibly See It?


Because of this planet's extremely large size and close orbit, it could actually block out part of its parent star during a transit. This is exactly what is predicted to happen on the evening of February 14, 2009. HD80606b will pass between Earth and its parent star, blocking out a tiny portion of its light. There is a tiny chance that amateur astronomers will be able to detect this event in moderately sized telescopes as a dimming of the star for a few hours on the night of Feb. 14. While it most probably won't be detectable by the human eye, test setups consisting of tracking mounts and CCD cameras could allow amateurs to maybe (just maybe) detect an exoplanet transit at home. Shown below are three finder maps I put together in wide, mid, and close-up views, so anyone can find this star to watch for the event. I'd love to hear any reports of observations of this! (Click to enlarge. Right-click, Save As... and print for use at the scope)


Wide-angle view


Mid-angle view


Close-up view


Clear skies!

NOTE: If you get any CCD photometry data, please send it to AAVSO and transitsearch.org.

28 comments:

RevAaron said...

What kind of magnitude drop are we talking about here?

Sean Welton said...

There aren't many estimates available as to the magnitude drop that is expected, but I'd imagine it is going to be on the very edge of perception by amateur telescopes. Still it will be fun to check for it! My thought on it is that it might be comparable to a minima of Algol (if we can see it), so observe it as if it were such an event.

Clear skies,
Sean

January 31, 2009 at 7:24 PM

Mang (433rd) said...

Sean the disk of the planet looks like it's about 1.5% the size of the disk of the star. I'm not sure the exact effect of distance .03-.84 AU, but I expect the closer the planet is to the star the more noticable the effect. I know I'm not set up for that kind of measurement.

Mang (433rd) said...

I meant I'm not sure the exact distance on the 14th.

Are you going to try? Do you have a test setup in mind?

Sean Welton said...

I would try if I had the equipment and skies. I'll probably be clouded over (Northeast Ohio isn't known for clear winter skies).

Anyways, I'd imagine that the best test setup would be a CCD on a tracking mount that one could use to record precise images of this star. One could then analyze the images for drops in magnitude over the course of the night. Visually, the chances of seeing this effect I admit are very low, especially if the magnitude dip is very small. If I have clear skies, I'm going to try anyways, maybe look back at it every few hours over the course of a night. Not exactly scientific, but hey its what I've got!

Clear skies,
Sean

February 1, 2009 at 11:49 AM

Sean Welton said...

Post edited slightly to include the bit about CCD cameras.

Clear skies,
Sean

February 1, 2009 at 11:55 AM

Mang (433rd) said...

Yuck correction. Shouldn't have done the math quickly on a small phone calulator. It's about a million times smaller that 1.5%. I don't think that'll show up.

Sean Welton said...

Oh wow, I guess we can rule out detecting it visually then. Darn, guess I'll have to try again someday when I get a tracking mount and CCD equipment...

Clear skies,
Sean

February 1, 2009 at 3:46 PM

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