Jakob Schaeffer, Class of '10, is hunting for planets lurking undetected in solar systems across our galaxy.
Now a graduate student in the astronomy program at Wesleyan University, Jakob uses a 24-inch diameter telescope to search for signs of exoplanets, or planets orbiting stars other than our sun. He's part of a research team that uses planetary transit observations, a method for observing exoplanets that measures the dip in light as a planet passes in front of its host star.
"For a single planet orbiting a single star, these transits can be precisely predicted," says Jakob. "However if we observe transits occurring at times different than those which we expect, it can be a hint that something is afoot — namely another planet may be lurking undetected in that solar system. A few of our targets are showing promising signs of having yet undetected planets."
Jakob is also setting up an autoguider, which will allow the telescope to stay pointed more precisely at any given point in the sky for extended periods of time. The autoguider will result in better photos and data in the search for exoplanets.
"The research that I did at or through Bucknell, both in class-based labs as well as independent research labs, has probably been the most useful skill here in grad school," says Jakob. "Also understanding how light originates from astronomical sources and its interaction with matter en route to Earth is crucial to getting a fuller and more precise understanding of what's out there and happening in the Cosmos."