Transit Photometry for Planetary Discovery

Credit: ESA/University of Florida

Transit photometry is a technique astronomers use to detect extrasolar planets. Planetary orbits often force extrasolar bodies to pass between their suns and telescopes on Earth. This causes a drop in the amount of starlight detected by local astronomers. By measuring this drop in light, the relative location of planets can be charted.

Observing the transit pathways that extrasolar bodies take reveals several important pieces of information about them. Size is usually easy to determine from these sorts of studies. Considering that observations can’t be made in person, this might very well be the best way to discover their size.

Studies that take a look at transit photometry data are generally able to calculate the orbital periods of various extrasolar planets. Individuals with an interest in the search for intelligent life might also want to consider what size and orbital have to say about the theoretical habitable zone of another world. Life forms that resemble those found on Earth would most likely be found on planets with similar habitable areas.

Futuristic explorers will quite possibly use the information collected today when trying to select planets for terraforming. Since generational ship missions will need to be carefully planned, collecting accurate data today might save lives tomorrow.

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