How to Observe

If you have your own telescope:
(if not, skip to the next section)

The exact setup can vary, but in general a 4" or larger telescope with tripod, tracking mount, camera, and control software/laptop are needed for Exoplanet Watch observations. For more specific details, check out the following resources and come discuss options in our #observing Slack channel!

  • Exoplanet Watch Observer's Manual
    • ​This manual is designed as a resource to instruct both beginning and advanced observers on how to begin participating with Exoplanet Watch by making observations of transiting exoplanets.
    • This document covers the basic ideas and processes behind exoplanet photometry, walks through the required equipment as well as recommended observing systems, details the data acquisition process as well as potential pitfalls and issues one may encounter, and finally explains the data reduction process in which your observations are turned into light curves of the exoplanet you observed.
  • A Practical Guide to Exoplanet Observing
    • Observing exoplanets may take some practice, but anyone can do it! Here’s an introduction to observing an exoplanet with your own telescope.
    • This guide by Dennis Conti gives you a great look into ‘best practices’ when observing exoplanets.
  • What to Observe
    • We'll show you how to pick targets and plan your own exoplanet observations. You can look up which exoplanets will be visible at or near your location using the Swarthmore Transit Finder. We list exoplanets that will be visible in different regions of the world. We also have observing campaigns related to upcoming James Webb Space Telescope observations, so that you can help professional astronomers use JWST time more efficiently, freeing up time for other astronomers to make observations.

If you do not have your own telescope (or if it is light polluted or cloudy where you live)

MicroObservatory robotic telescope
Credit: MicroObservatory, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

You can now request data from one of our robotic telescopes if you do not have your own telescope or live in a cloudy location. Please click here to access our data checkout system.

In addition, below, we list some additional resources that are currently, or will soon be, available for observing or processing exiting data from observations that have already been made.

  • Exoplanet Watch works with the MicroObservatory's DIY Planet Search to obtain robotic telescope observations of transiting exoplanets for our users who do not have their own telescope. We have created a data checkout system so that you can request an observation to process.
  • Exoplanet Watch is a member of the Global Sky Partners program. Our citizen scientists can request time on one of the Las Cumbres Observatory telescopes
  • Contact the GORT Team at Sonoma State University in Santa Rosa, California, to request observations with their robotically-controlled 14” Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.
  • Apply for time on the robotic AAVSOnet telescopes
  • Contact your local university, planetarium, science museum, astronomy club --- even some libraries have telescopes and cameras that you can borrow for your own observations. Don't forget about your family and friends who might have a telescope gathering dust in a closet somewhere.
  • Some of our users have archival data of transiting exoplanets and they need help to reduce them! Please join our Slack Workspace and make a post in our #data-requests channel.

As exoplanets pass in front of their star, they block some of the starlight. While it's not enough of a difference in brightness to see with our eyes, computers are great at noticing these small differences.

What to Observe

Swarthmore Transit Finder
Swarthmore Transit Finder

You are welcome to observe any transiting exoplanet. We also identify priority targets every day for each region around the world. These targets are likely to be observed in the future by large telescopes, but have relatively large uncertainty in their timing and therefore require follow-up by Exoplanet Watch participants.

Regardless of the target you choose to observe, we recommend that you check that it is visible from your exact location using either the NASA Exoplanet Archive's Transit and Ephemeris Service or Swarthmore's Transit Finder.

Exoplanets usually take several hours to transit, or pass in front of, the star they orbit. You will need to take a picture every few minutes, from an hour before the transit begins, through the whole transit, and for an hour after the transit ends. You won't be able to see the transit with your own eyes, but your computer will be able to pick up tiny differences in the brightness of the star you're observing as the planet passes in front of it.

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