Cottrell College Science Awards - 2015
Exoplanet Science with Grinnell's Grant O. Gale Observatory
Eliza Kempton, assistant professor of physics at Grinnell College, has received funding to hunt for planets orbiting distant stars.
The support comes from Research Corporation for Science Advancement, one of America’s oldest philanthropies, in the form of a Cottrell College Science Award.
Kempton will use Grinnell’s 24-inch telescope housed in the Grant O. Gale Observatory on campus.
“Transiting Jupiter-sized planets are easily detectable with our current setup,” she says. “And we are in the process of upgrading our telescope hardware, allowing us to push our detection thresholds to smaller planets orbiting fainter stars.”
Kempton notes that it has been almost 20 years since the first detection of a planet in orbit around a solar-type star outside of our own solar system. In the intervening years, the field of exoplanet research has moved beyond the study of individual objects to building up an understanding of the population of planets that exist in our galaxy and beyond.
“What has been revealed in the process is an incredible diversity of planetary systems that far surpasses initial expectations, and it raises the question as to whether our own solar system is even typical, amongst all of the possible architectures of planetary systems,” she said.
Specifically, Kempton and her students take precise photometric observations of transiting planet host stars in order to produce high-quality light curves to confirm, characterize, and in some cases even discover transiting exoplanets.