Super-earth discovered with Backyard Telescopes

News broke last night that an exo-planet has been discovered last night which is about 40 to 50 light years away from us and is double the size of our own planet. The interesting news is that it is suspected that this planet could have water covering at least three quarters of it’s surface. Being close to a red dwarf star, this is a hot world and is not likely to contain life as we know it as the temperature on the surface is estimated to be about 280 degrees celcius.

I am particularly interested in how this planet was found. Not using the hubble telescope or any of the large ground based telescopes. This was actually a discovery using an array of small telescopes which were monitoring 2000 red dwarf stars and noticed one of the stars change brightness. Specifically these 8 telescopes were 16 inch telescopes linked to CCD cameras which means that it is possible for anyone of us amateurs who have purchased a 16 inch telescope for about $4000 or $5000 and has a CCD camera could detect this new planet as well.

The CCD camera used in this project is a Apogee U42 CCD camera which I think costs around $2000 to $3000. Not a cheap camera to say the least but there are a number of backyard astronomers who do own one of these cameras.

So I was intrigued that this was a discovery made using a relatively small ground based telescope that any one of us could own.

Since we are looking back in time millions of years when we look at the stars, we never know what we will see when we do our observing . This newly discovered planet is relatively close to us being only 40 to 50 light years away from us and I have put together a picture as shown below to show what the planet may look like and it’s distance away from us.

New Super-Earth Planet Discovered (Click to Enlarge)

~ by sydneystargazers on December 17, 2009.

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