We have exciting news to share about Unistellar Network member Kevin Voeller, a high school science teacher in Huntington Beach, California. He’s the first Unistellar citizen scientist to have exoplanet transit data from his eVscope featured in a published scientific paper, as well as being listed as a co-author!
Voeller, along with two Unistellar Astronomers and a larger team of international astronomers, made observations of the transit of exoplanet WASP-148b as it crossed in front of its star. In doing so, the team was able to get a better understanding of how the exoplanet orbits its star, and even helped firm up a theory of solar system formation!
The exoplanet, found in 2020, is a so-called “hot Jupiter.” It’s about twice as big as Neptune and orbits more than ten times closer to its star than Earth does. Voeller’s data on the exoplanet’s transit, taken in April of 2021, agreed closely with the observations from the much bigger professional telescopes.
The paper’s insights came from the dip in the star’s brightness that Voeller and the rest of the astronomers saw as WASP-148b briefly blocked out its light. Alongside data from telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona, Voeller’s data confirmed a key component of the planet’s orbit and guided other measurements that showed for the first time that WASP-148b spins around its star in an orbit that’s nearly in line with the star’s equator.
That kind of orbit means the WASP-148 system probably formed in a relatively calm and orderly fashion, free from outside gravitational influences or cataclysmic events. It’s something astronomers thought they might see, but with so little data on exoplanets and their stars, they didn’t have much data to back up their theories.
Aside from beginning to put actual observations behind theories, the paper gives us more insight into how different solar systems form, and gives researchers a better understanding of why different systems — including our own Solar System — look the way they do today.