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.

1. DESIGN
First, I designed the tracker using a CAD modeling program.
2. CONSTRUCTION
The body of the tracker was constructed with wood.
3. ASSEMBLY
In final assembly, the stepper motor and Arduino computer were added.
4. DATA COLLECTION
I began collecting data at 2AM in the mountains on a moonless night.
5. IMAGE ANALYSIS
This is a typical image collected by my tracker, annotated to show the star I tracked.
6. DATA
Analysis showed dip in brightness as it took the planet two hours to cross in front of the star.
Show More

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.

1. SCIENCE FAIR
My project board and apparatus, as awarded at the Santa Barbara Science Fair.
2. ASTRONOMY TALK
The poster promoting my presentation at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum.
3. GLADWIN PLANETARIUM
Onstage presenting my method and data used to detect an exoplanet.
Show More

zoe@reifel.org

805.689.0014

  • Grey LinkedIn Icon
  • Grey Instagram Icon