How Amateurs Can Contribute to the Field of Transiting Exoplanets
Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139
NASA Sagan Fellow
Invited review paper, received June 4, 2012
In 1999 on two evenings in September, the first tell-tale dips of a transiting extrasolar planet passing in front of its star were detected with a 10-centimeter telescope that was set up in a parking lot beside a wooden shed. Although these observations were obtained by professional astronomers, their setup—a modest aperture telescope in an unassuming location—should sound familiar to many enterprising amateur astronomers. What should warm the heart of any amateur astronomer, while they man their telescope alone on a cold winter’s eve, or as they gaze at the blinking glare of their computer monitor, is that there are still numerous avenues via which ambitious amateurs can significantly contribute to the evolving story of transiting extrasolar planets (exoplanets). In the brief review below, I’ll summarize the current state of the field of transiting exoplanets, and then elucidate the ways that resourceful amateurs—those with and without access to telescopes—can contribute to the field, both in discovering new transiting exoplanets and in characterizing existing ones.