Dr. Douglas Caldwell

December 20, 2006

“A Search for Extrasolar Planets from the South Pole”

NSF OPP–0126313

This project proposes to operate a small optical telescope at the South Pole to search for and characterize extrasolar planets. The method is to observe thousands of stars by continuously following a southern Galactic star filed with a CCD photometer, searching for the periodic dimming that occurs as a planet transits its parent star.The South Pole is the best place on the surface of the Earth to detect such planets because of the long winter night, during which randomly-phased transits can most efficiently be detected. Also, the constant altitude of a stellar field at the Pole avoids large daily atmospheric extinction variations allowing for higher photometric precision and a search for smaller planets. This project will increase tenfold the number of extrasolar planets for which transits are observed. Then, in conjunction with follow-on measurements from existing Southern Hemisphere Doppler velocity programs, planet densities can be determined. These data will provide information vital to theoretical models of planetary structure and formation.

Vulcan South - Antarctic Planet Finder