Many extra-solar planets ('exoplanets') are discovered today by tracking precisely the light from the star they orbit. When the planet transits, or passes in front of, the star, a tiny bit of the star's light is blocked. This allows astronomers to determine many properties of the planet. The PI's team are pioneers in using an optical device called an Engineered Diffuser. This device significantly reduces sources of uncertainty in the light output of the star, especially the effect known as scintillation ('twinkling,' in a layperson's term). They will use this technique to identify, confirm, and study planets down to Earth's size around bright stars. They will also use the technique to study the stars' magnetic fields by detecting spots analogous to sunspots on the surface of the stars. Undergraduate and graduate students, and a postdoctoral associate, will take part in the observations and data analysis. The collaborators will also incorporate the results into their teaching and public outreach at their institutions.
Ground-based observations are subject to a number of limitations in their precision due to the day-night cycle, atmospheric effects, scintillation, transparency variations, differential extinction, seeing, and telescope-guiding effects which typically prevents them from achieving the photometric precision of space-based missions. The larger field of view offered by small aperture telescopes enables bright comparison stars to be more readily found, however, the aforementioned challenges often prevent small telescopes from matching space-based photometric precision. Larger telescopes offer better averaging of scintillation. The group's implementation of diffuser-aided photometry from the ground provides an improvement in performance compared to de-focused small telescopes and they have demonstrated on-sky photometric performance that rivals that of space telescopes at a fraction of the cost.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
|Effective start/end date||9/1/19 → 8/31/22|
- National Science Foundation: $415,452.00