In this compelling episode of Cosmic Queries, host Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses the fascinating world of exoplanets with guest Gáspár Bakos, a researcher at the Princeton Department of Astrophysical Sciences. Together, they explore the innovative project called the Hungarian-made Automated Telescope Network (HAT Net), which uses small, strategically placed telescopes around the globe to detect and study planets beyond our solar system.
By using robotic technology to monitor large areas of the sky, Bakos and his team have discovered around 140 exoplanets since 2006. The transit of a planet in front of a star can be accurately detected by these small telescopes, which are carefully engineered and run to optimize their detection capabilities.
Bakos highlights the existence of 20% of solar type stars having a rocky planet in their habitable zone, leading to a staggering estimate of 8 billion rocky habitable planets in our galaxy alone. The conversation also delves into the discovery of stable planets orbiting binary star systems, which were once only imagined in the Star Wars universe.
The discussion brings attention to the various types of planets discovered using transiting exoplanet techniques, including observations of their trajectory, size, and atmosphere. It is noted that small and long-period planets appear to be far more common than their larger and short-period counterparts.
The utilization and advantages of small telescopes in exoplanet detection are also explored, as they provide a cost-effective and maintainable solution for institutions with limited funding. These small-scale telescope systems can effectively measure the brightness of millions of stars, allowing larger, more advanced telescopes to focus on following up the "gems" detected by the smaller network.
Looking towards the future, Bakos and Tyson discuss the Vera Rubin telescope as the next frontier for astronomical observation, particularly for detecting dark matter. However, Bakos expresses concerns about light pollution generated by satellite trails, which could disrupt the sensitive observations made by the Vera Rubin telescope. He emphasizes the need for an updated International Space Treaty to manage the number of satellites launched and limit their environmental impact, as a potential risk of runaway satellite growth looms without central agency oversight or proper regulation.
In summary, this engaging episode of Cosmic Queries offers a deep dive into the realm of exoplanet research and the innovative telescope technology behind these discoveries. It also raises critical questions about human impact on astronomical observations and the importance of protecting the night skies for both scientific research and the general enjoyment of stargazers worldwide.