Watts Planet Search
What are we doing?
For such a simple question there is but one simple answer: we are explorers of the night. We diligently gaze at the stars each night in search of that which intrigues our imagination and tests our intelligence and ingenuity. We are looking for planets. No, not the usual suspects as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, or other more well known parts of OUR solar system. We seek planets rotating around stars billions of miles away. We seek that which we cannot see, we search for signs otherwise meaningless, we seek exoplanets.
How are we doing it?
When in search of exoplanets there are a few methods of detection. Since the planets are so small compared to the stars (which even at their massive size appear as mere pinpricks in the night sky) we are forced to do what scientists call indirect measurement as a means of detection.
The first way of detection is that of the Doppler shift detection. In this method we observe a stars color as it reaches us for shifts in tint between red and blue areas of spectrum. This is made possible by the gravitational pull the planet has on the star. As the planet Pulls the star away from us, the stars light appears more red in color (due to the apparent increase in the light's wavelength). As the planet pulls the star towards us, the Doppler shift of the star causes the light to appear more blue or violet as the apparent wavelength of the star is shorter. This method is more commonly called Radial velocity Measurement in the astronomy community.
The next form of detection is that of Astrometry. As a planets mass pulls the star it causes a very slight change in the star's position. To us it appears as though the star is slightly vibrating from time to time- this indicates the presence of a planet.
The method that we are using in the SHSU chapter of the WATTS (Wide Angle Telescope Transit Search) Program is known as a transit method. We observe a field of stars and create an index of their respective light intensities. We do this over a period of time and if we notice the light intensity of a star change at regular intervals and for a certain duration of time- that indicates the presence of a planet. This is caused by the light of the star being partially blocked by the planet in question.
The team at SHSU is but a small part of the cumulative research project- we welcome and respect our collaborators and wish our fellow star-gazers luck!