Transit photometry

Kepler 186f

Today I will write about transit photometry.
This is method of finding exoplanets (means those which are not in our Solar System).

Of course we can not see any of those planets because they are too small. But what we can see or better what can Kepler Space Telescope see is effect of such a exoplanet when it transits around its star. To see this clearly, watch this video.

To describe it with words, when planet transits (orbits) star and Kepler is watching it he will see the little difference in its brightness, some of the light will be blocked by some planet. When this happens periodically we know that there is some planet.
Of course this has some limitations, we can only see objects that are orbiting close to its star because no telescope or satellite has service life of 30 years which would be needed
for Saturn if some extraterrestrial life would watch Sun. Those 30 years are counting with Saturn transiting Sun at the time of telescope´s start.

So this is transit photometry which can be used only for enough large planets that are not really far away from their stars. Usually scientist are mostly trying to find planets in “life zones”. Those zones are in some fixed distance depending on the type of star and it means that we think there could be live. There is lot of candidates for habitable planets and probably best of them is Kepler 452b which is orbiting G type star (same as Sun). Kepler Small Habitable Zone Dozen
Because legendary Kepler is getting old and he is able to watch only fixed part of sky there is TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) which will be able to watch 90%.

In the year of 2024 there will also come PLATO (Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars). This mission is planned for six years but still it will no be able to find planets with the size of Mars or Mercury.

Last one is NGTS (Next Generation Transit Survey) which is trying to find planets smaller than Neptune around stars with apparent magnitude lower than 13 (7 is not visible to average human eye).

Also astronomers can find out how big is exoplanet by its gravitational effect on star and from this we can even count what is its density.