PROJECT: Star Crossed

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Science  17 Oct 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5644, pp. 367
DOI: 10.1126/science.302.5644.367a

Set up by professional astronomers, lets amateur stargazers join the hunt for planets orbiting alien stars. The founders hope to create a network of sky watchers who can spot extrasolar transits—that is, the moments when a planet outside our solar system passes between its star and Earth. Such eclipses should be visible when a star dims periodically.

Astronomers have located more than 100 stars with wobbly orbits that suggest the presence of planets. Spotting a planet's extrasolar transit can help experts pin down its size, orbit, and details of its atmosphere, but observers have seen only two so far. Aimed at small colleges and amateur astronomers who own telescopes, the new site explains how to recognize an extrasolar transit and offers advice on picking charge-coupled device detectors and software. A target list provides the coordinates and likely transit date for more than 50 planet-bearing stars. For more details, see a preprint paper by the astronomers who launched the site.

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