Colexio M. Peleteiro

Project summary

Prototype of a planet orbiting a star to simulate the transit method used by space telescopes to detect exoplanets.


Who has carried out the project?

Isabel Villar Garcia and Jose Manuel Suarez Lopez.


What is the project about?

The transit method is the most used to detect exoplanets and discover the characteristics of these stars. This project shows a prototype that simulates the transit method to understand how space telescopes can measure different magnitudes of exoplanets that are at a great distance from us. For this, cheap and accessible materials were used: a light bulb acts as a star, a small motor rotates the planet – a Styrofoam ball – around the star, an Arduino microcontroller allows selecting the speed of rotation and, finally, a mobile phone measures the luminosity of the star to detect changes in the light curve each time the planet passes in front of it.

What is the purpose of this project?

This project aims to show, in a practical and very simple way, how space telescopes detect exoplanets using the transit method, a method that is highly relevant today in space research.


How does the project work? (Technologies used, user experience, etc.)

An Arduino microcontroller was used to rotate the planet around the star and thus, with a potentiometer, the rotation speed of the planet can be selected. The structure that supports the planet was made with pieces of wood that were part of a construction kit. For the star, a lamp holder obtained from an old lamp was used. The light curve of the planet is obtained through an application that uses the luminosity sensor of the mobile phone. The user can change the speed of rotation through the potentiometer, or the size of the planet simply by changing the Styrofoam ball for a smaller one and, in this way, it is possible to see how the light curve is modified depending on the different features of the planet.


What does this project contribute to the Maker Community?

This project shows the benefits of applying a maker approach to learning science. With this way of working, once a problem has been raised, students must search for information to propose a possible solution, decide what materials to use and how to connect and program them, and carry out the necessary tests to check if the prototype works as expected. In this way they learn in a similar way to the method that scientists follow in their work, adding a very motivating factor when learning science.


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