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A new, low-cost attachment to telescopes allows previously unachievable precision in ground-based observations of exoplanets -- planets beyond our solar system. With the new attachment, ground-based telescopes can produce measurements of light intensity that rival the highest quality photometric observations from space. Penn State astronomers, in close collaboration with the nanofabrication labs at RPC Photonics in Rochester, New York, created custom "beam-shaping" diffusers -- carefully structured micro-optic devices that spread incoming light across an image -- that are capable of minimizing distortions from the Earth's atmosphere that can reduce the precision of ground-based observations. A paper describing the effectiveness of the diffusers appears online on October 5, 2017, in the Astrophysical Journal.


"This inexpensive technology delivers high photometric precision in observations of exoplanets as they transit -- cross in front of -- the bright stars that they orbit," said Gudmundur Stefansson, graduate student at Penn State, NASA Earth and Space Science Fellow, and lead author of the paper. "This technology is especially relevant considering the impending launch of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) early in 2018. It is up to ground-based facilities to rapidly and reliably follow-up on candidate planets that are identified by TESS."

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Category: Science