Discovering exoplanets in a galaxy not so near you – a free activity

Detecting exoplanets

Middle School / High School

Exoplanets are home-away-from-homes for us earthlings. Well, maybe. Exoplanets do orbit stars as Earth does, but they are just so darn far away! In fact, exoplanets are very hard to see directly, even with the most powerful telescopes. They are hidden by the intense light of the stars they orbit. Astronomers detect and study these faraway planets by looking at the effects they have on the stars they orbit.

To date, five exoplanets and eight planet candidates have been found around nearby stars, including a "cold Neptune" and two super-Earths that are potentially habitable, according to a new study.

But if you’re hoping to hop on the next uber-spaceship bound for one of the two super-Earths, GJ180d and GJ229Ac, you’re in for a disappointment. You see, they’re about 19 and 40 light-years away. That’s 208 gazillion dog years!

In this activity, students will get hands-on experience with a method to identify the existence of exoplanets. The activity simulates the Transit Method in a way that’s easy for students to grasp.

Download lesson

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