DISCOVERING NEW WORLDS AT HOME
During my sophomore year, I had the opportunity to do a science fair project. Inspired that astronomers had discovered planets outside our solar system, my curiosity was piqued. I set out to build an instrument where I could do this myself.
My approach was to measure a star’s brightness over time. As an orbiting planet crosses in front of its star, the planet blocks some of the light reaching the Earth, resulting in a slight dimming.
I did this by first building a tracking device to compensate for the rotation of the Earth. A DSLR camera mounted to my tracker acquired numerous photos of the star over time. Finally, I fed images into software that analyzed the normalized images, measuring the brightness of the star. Graphing this data showed a dip in the star’s intensity, revealing a planet 63 light years away.
5. IMAGE ANALYSISThis is a typical image collected by my tracker, annotated to show the star I tracked.
2015 SCIENCE FAIR & ASTRONOMY TALK
Armed with my instrument and data, I competed in the Santa Barbara County Science Fair, winning a gold medal and a special award from the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit. My success at the science fair gained the attention of the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum and Gladwin Planetarium, where I was asked to speak about my project. They wanted to showcase what is possible to accomplish in science without state-of-the-art laboratories or expensive telescopes. A local college astronomy professor invited his students and gave them extra credit to attend my talk.