Planet-hunting physics students see the light

Dated: 28 March 2018

On 21st of March, 10 Woodhouse A level physics students attended an evening conference at Queen Mary, University of London, where the physicists were reporting back their findings as part of a planet hunting project.

 Dr Martin Archer and colleague (centre) with our physics students

Since November, and with some supervision by Queen Marys' Dr Archer and his department, our students have been writing Python code to sift through reams of data from NASA’s Kepler telescope, looking for tiny dips in the light levels as a planet passes in front of its star. Our students have been working entirely independently without any support - though it would have been available had they needed it.

By measuring the depth of the dip in brightness and knowing the size of the star, the students were able to determine the size of the planet. This dip in brightness is less than 1/100th of one percent, or the equivalent of the amount of light blocked if a gnat crawled across a car's headlight viewed from several miles away!
 
At the conference this week our students discussed first of all how the project had developed their transferable skills as well as their coding and maths, going on to report how they had improved the efficiency of the code they had written. 

As student Gera Jahja commented, “It really helped with my time management, was fun to work in a team and was a really interesting topic.”


Below (for those that have any idea what this means...) an example of how the students ‘phase folded’ the data so that the light curve becomes more defined.
 
 
 
 
 
 







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