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Obviously, I am not referring to actual viewing of the exoplanets themselves, but detecting their effects on the brightness of the light emitted from the parent star (as in the diagram below from The Institute of Astronomy, University of Hawaii).

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I would imagine that a good quality telescope, would be about to detect and record the effects of the exoplanet transiting the parent star.

What practical considerations in terms of equipment, software etc. would be required for 'backyard' amateur observations of the effects of transiting exoplanets?

If anyone has actually tried this, what has been your experience?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

This is actually quite straightforward with digital CCD's (it used to be quite tricky with film cameras as you'd have to carefully develop film that moved past the lens and assess the width of the trail)

Get yourself a good telescope - a 12" Dobsonian or above if you want to give yourself a good chance of picking out the fluctuations against the noise background. Then select a decent CCD. Five hundered pounds gets a reasonable one, but expect to pay a couple of thousand pounds for a cooled CCD, which will also help to reduce noise.

(Buying in US dollars? A reasonable CCD runs about $1000. A cooled CCD will cost you at least $1500.)

You'll want a good quality equatorial mount, with computer controlled servos to track the target smoothly over long periods of time.

Ideally you will also slave a second telescope and CCD, pointed along the same path but slightly off - this will help you cancel out cloud and other fluctuations from our own atmosphere.

Oh, and get as far away from a city as possible - up into the mountains can be a good plan :-)

Then arrange your viewing for a series of full nights. The more data points you can get, the better the noise reduction. Imagine the exoplanet is orbiting every 100 days, in order to get any useful data, you will need to track it over some multiple of 100 days. So assume you set up to track your target star for 2 years, plan for 3 or 4 star shots per night to give you a range of data points.

These 600+ days of 4 data points per night gives you a reasonable stack of data - the challenge now is to work out whether there are any cyclic variations. Various data analysis tools can do this for you. As a first step, if you find a cycle around 365 days, it probably isn't the target, so try and normalise for this (of course this will make it very difficult to discover exoplanets with a period of exactly 1 year)

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