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BAA Council response to Exoplanet Section proposal

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BAA Council response to Exoplanet Section proposal

As received from the BAA President, Callum Potter.

"I think it is fair to say that the council whilst  very supportive of an exoplanet observing initiative did not reach a consensus on whether a section or group (of an existing section) would be the best way forward.

There were some concerns over the proposed remit - in that whilst some of the aspects for example like exo-biology (astrobiology - RD) might be of interest there would not be much that amateurs could contribute.

But I think the main concern over a section is whether there is sufficient critical mass of members to sustain a section over many years.

So Council would like you on to evaluate the strength of support for an Exoplanets Section with specific numbers,  and to canvas potential committee members and suggestions for who might be Section Director.

If you would like to present to Council at the September 5th Council Meeting we will make time on the agenda".

I have agreed with Callum that an article can be included in the next newsletter which is soon to be published. In it I will request answers to the matters raised by Council and would very much appreciate your continued support.

Regards

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Exoplanet section update

Roger,

thanks for the update.

There is some merit in the Council's response concerning the longevity of a new section  and the useful work that could be carried out on some of the suggested topics.

My own interests would be with the filtered photometry  and modelling  of light curves and temporal changes i.e. TTV, subtle changes in the light curve.  I also happen to think that collaboration with professionals with regard to ongoing missions, TESS, TWINKLE whilst interesting will not sustain a new section for long because it is externally driven.  Far better to be involved directly in assisting a professional with observations of particular targets.  Recent correspondence assures me that there are very competent observers from whom we could construct our own observing programmes centered on   particular targets and produce valuable results.

Regards,

Eric

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Exoplanet Section update,

Hi Eric - thanks for your thoughts. An observing program centred on specific targets is preferable in that observers can compare results and methods which lead on to better things. I would imagine that most professionals work on specific missions so we probably need to tie into a mission but a friendly face within a mission would be of considerable help. ~Watch out for the next BAA Newsletter and e-bulletin specific to the proposed Exoplanet Section.

Regards 

Rgeards

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Exo-planets

I must admit, the exo-biology argument didnt work for me either. 

Isnt detecting or monitoring an exo-planet pretty much the same as an eclipsing binary - albeit an extreme case?

Would have thought it could live quite happily as a subsection of the VSS until it proves its longevity. Theres no reason progamme stars couldnt be chosen by the members or head of the subsection surely?

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Exoplanet Section update

Hi Grant,

I would agree that any imager who has monitored asteroids, comets, variable stars and produced the associated light curves would be equally at home with exoplanets. Responsibilities will have to wait until a sub-section/section decision is made but I would hope that if the former then the leader would have more or less a free hand to decide on an observing program.

Regards 

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Exoplanets

Considering an exoplanet detection as an extreme case of eclipsing binary is reasonable (though not all detections require an eclipse), so that’s certainly within the VSS skill set, This will likely evolve to include extreme spectroscopy if any desire to detect an exoplanetary atmosphere is to be taken seriously, but that‘s possibly decades away even for professionals.

Exo-/astro-biology is an interesting area (and one I’ve studied recently), but I’m not sure that it fits well in any existing section. Nor am I convinced that BAA members would have much to contribute at the moment - unless they intend to participate in human factors research (which does fit under the subject heading).

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Exoplanet Section update

Hi Mark,

Agree ref skills as mentioned on reply to Grant. Professionals are already detecting exoplanet atmospheres and I don't doubt that amateurs will also be able to in the future.

One of the main thrusts, if not the main thrust, for professional astronomers working in this field is the detection of Earth-like worlds and determining whether or not they might harbour life. An area of interest for amateurs even if there is nothing we can do practically at the moment.

Regards

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Exoplanet spectroscopy

This will likely evolve to include extreme spectroscopy if any desire to detect an exoplanetary atmosphere is to be taken seriously, but that‘s possibly decades away even for professionals.

Professionals have been characterizing exoplanetary atmospheres for a number of years already! I've been doing voluntary work with the ExoMol team at University College London for the last couple of years specifically to help astronomers characterize the atmospheres of exoplanets and very cool stars.

I agree that current amateur equipment would find spectroscopy of atmospheres extremely challenging to say the least.  On the other hand, radial velocity measurements may well be feasible, given that relatively inexpensive (circa 10,000 pounds/euros/dollars) spectrographs fitted to 0.5m class telescopes have already shown to be capable of measuring RVs to within 50 m/s --- that typical of hot Jupiters orbiting close to the star, especially so if the star is a late M-type with a mass of around 0.3 M_sun.

Added in edit:  @stellarplanet has Tweeted only today about the detection of CO, H20 and CH4 in exoplanetary atmospheres.  Several posters at the conference were on the subject of exoplanetary atmospheres.

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Exoplanet Section update

In my view there are two aspects to this we should be considering:

a) does the proposed activity have a clearly defined observing programme and what are its goals and timescales?

b) where are the skills and experience most likely to be found to pursue that programme and achieve these goals?

At the moment, the answer to the second question is probably within the Variable Star Section. These observers are used to measuring the faint, low amplitude signals required, using a range of filters and processing the data. It would therefore seem logical to consider launching the new activity within that body of observers and attempting to build a sufficient level of interest and activity that the goals can be seen to be achievable and the timescales realistic. Once a firm base of activity has been established, useful results are being achieved and a long term programme looks viable, then is the time to consider forming a new section or group within the BAA.

Regards,

David

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Exoplanet Section update

Hi David,

Thanks for your comments.

A number of BAA members are already working on exoplanets and have expressed interest in forming a section and it would make sense to draw them together to define an observing program - a number of options were included in my proposal. VSS members (and those of other sections such as asteroids and comments) do obviously have the required skills but that doesn't necessarily imply that exoplanet observing should be incorporated into one of them. It is a growing field and it is not my view alone that it needs its own focus i.e. section. We need to look at the future of amateur astronomy in a very positive way and be prepared to give new ideas a proper trial.

Regards

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BAAVSS-AAVSO meeting

I see the VSS are already investigating possibilities, There are two papers on potential pro-amateur cooperation concerning exoplanets in the variable star meeting on the Sunday

11.00 – 11.50 Dr Guillem Anglada Escude (Queen Mary, University of London) Red Dots Initiative: science and opportunities in finding planets around the nearest red-dwarfs

11.50 – 12.10 Lukasz Wyrzykowski (University of Warsaw) How to find planets and black holes with microlensing events

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Exoplanet Section update

I will be there to listen with interest to see what they have to say which I am sure will include a number of opportunities for amateurs.

Regards

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Exoplanets

It's nice to see all this discussion and for my part I'm quite happy for it to fall within the VSS, but at the same time, I'd prefer somebody else to take the lead as I have more than enough to do with the VSS.

Roger

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This is indeed an exciting

This is indeed an exciting new area of astronomy which we should promote but, as pointed out by many, the techniques used have been developed mostly by the VS community over many years. It seems to me that the solution most likely to work is to set up an EP subsection of the VSS and give the coordinator plenty of autonomy to set up and promote EP observing programmes. This shouldn't be too much of an extra load on the VSS Director but it will have the benefit of starting off with the significant resources that the VSS already has. If, after a few years, the EP programme is vigorous we should reconsider whether to make it a stand-alone section.

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VSS ?

We seem to employ both side of the argument here. The call for a spectroscopy section was turned down on the ground it was a technique and as it was mainly stars that were studied VSS was the right home. Now it seems that as Exoplants are mainly studied via photometery VSS should be its home. 

I think the judgement should be on demand and potential contribution. Just how much overhead does a new section bring in the age of the internet?

Regards Andrew

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Let me stick my head above

Let me stick my head above the parapet and apologize for not contributing earlier.  Fortunately (!) I have been very busy of late.

The reason I was busy last week is that I purchased a house and observatory on La Palma on Wednesday.  It has a 0.4m Cassegrain, of excellent optical camera, tip/filt adaptive optics which keeps a star image on a single pixel (the plate scale is 0.75 arcsec/pixel) and a SBIG-8 CCD.  I've not had chance to use it seriously yet but the previous owner managed 2 millimag photometry.  La Palma is famous for having clear skies and superb seeing.  Incidentally, Kevin Hills has comparable equipment on the same site and I have been working with him and Phil Charles performing ~2mmag photometry on the optical counterpart of an X-ray black-hole transient.

I've been busy all day today attending the Exoplanet-II conference in Cambridge --- https://www.exoplanetscience2.org/programme .  After only 1 day of presentations (out of 4.5) several indicated that amateurs can do bleeding-edge research on exoplanets.  Although most spectroscopy is done with 2-10 metre-class telescopes, professionals often use 0.4 -- 0.6m scopes for photometry because it is so much easier to get time on them.  One speaker presented results from a 0.2m telescope.

I very much intend to work on exoplanets, whether or not a section is created.  Needless to say,  I strongly recommend an exoplanet section be created.