Although the UMD Observatory is located inside the Beltway around DC and therefore has considerable light pollution issues, new cameras and processing techniques as well as judiciously picking targets have allowed us to continue doing some research. Most of the work is done by students over the course of a semester or two.
Undergraduate students Brett Morris and Harley Katz have been observing transiting exoplanets with differential photometry since the summer of 2011. Transiting exoplanets are planets in other solar systems that pass between the Earth and the host star. This small eclipse is detectable from Earth with careful observation. Using skills cultivated in the Department of Astronomy, they have successfully measured transits of multiple exoplanets with the equipment at the observatory. Their work proves the utility of small observatories in follow-up observations of transiting exoplanets, which are being discovered faster than they can be studied.
These students honed observational techniques and developed the differential photometry package, oscaar, which has been released as open source. The code has also been applied to a variety of photometric observations including occultations and asteroid rotation curves. This work is ongoing and welcomes other dedicated undergraduates to succeed the soon-to-graduate founders.
These images represent the periodic decrease in brightness of stars that host exoplanets, as they "transit" the star. These planets range in distance from 63-1044 light years from Earth. These transits were submitted to the Czech Astronomical Society Exoplanet Transit Database to contribute to the strength of the exoplanet ephemerides of the amateur community.
This plot represents the periodic change in brightness as asteroid Kalliope rotates on its axis. Linus, a satellite of Kalliope, passed between Kalliope and the Sun in these observations. As Linus cast its shadow on Kalliope's surface, Brett detected the decrease in Kalliope's apparent brightness. These results were presented at the Asteroids, Comets and Meteors 2012 conference in Japan (May 2012).