Friday, May 20, 2016

Project PANOPTES, Of Course

This poem was delivered at OSCON 2016, which is an Open Source conference attended by many geeks who are interested in stuff. Our presentation was in the very final time slot on the last day, so I decided I wanted to try and do something fun. There were accompanying slides that helped to illustrate things. 

Project Panoptes, Of Course
by Wilfred Tyler Gee

A long time ago, in the 1980s let's say
In a star system that was located far, far away
From the galactic center, but it was home to the earth
There lived a vain little species, the Center of the Universe!

Now these humans would stare, looking up from the ground
But despite their best efforts, no others they found.
A “Wandering Star”, a local planet, yes, they did see
But alone in the universe they assumed they must be.

Other stars? Sure! there were a billion above!
And astronomers to categorize them, that’s something they love.
But when they looked at the stars what did they see?
Certainly not a planet around a celestial body

However some were determined and kept looking for more
But it’s not like a planet just knocks at your door.
Then in 95, Mayor & Queloz caused shock,
by revealing that planets, instead of knocking, could rock.

Not rock out loud, nor of the terrestrial kind,
But rock the star in its orbit, a remarkable find!
A find so exciting, you'll have to excuse,
while I pause very briefly to take our first interlude:

Interlude: Radial Velocity

Now 51 Pegasi
Has a planet called 'b'
That tugs at its parent star

Now Newton has told us
Of the gravity that holds us
And how it pulls everything from afar.

Take a two body system
Where one’s huge and one isn’t
For instance, the Sun and the Earth

Here the sun holds its ground,
While the planet goes around,
For its entire orbital girth

However! as the planet goes 'round
A slight wobble is found
From the planet pulling its way

Take 51 Pegasi
And it’s hot-Jupiter named ‘b’
That orbits in just four rapid days

For when the planet goes far
To the other side of the star,
The light is red-shifted away

And by shifting the light,
Even ever so slight,
Planets show up in a periodic way.

Doppler Spectroscopy,
Another name for Radial Velocity
Is the name of this detection technique

And as far as techniques go,
RV stole the show,
And finally gave us some planets to seek

Now back on the Earth this caused quite a stir
For astronomers had never considered these planets before.
A Jupiter mass at point 05 AU?
Why that’s closer than Mercury (which I’m sure that you knew)

You see, we did have some models of how planets form
But this first one we found was way out of the norm.
Gas giants, we thought, should be far from their star
And should never be able to migrate that far.

Now their results at that time could not be explained
But more importantly it caused their approach to be changed.
For if we knew of one, then surely there’s others
Just waiting out there for someone to discover.

And discover they did, but with all new techniques
For some of the astronomers had started to think:
If a planet that big passes so close to its source
It would naturally interfere with the light beam, of course

So it was Charbonneau et al, researchers from Harvard
Who really got this whole exoplanet detection thing started.
And the transit technique is the one that they used
Which brings us, of course, to our next interlude

Interlude: Transit Method

“It’s just luck,” you might say
That a planet falls in the way
To catch in our line of sight

But although this is true
What I’d like to tell you
Is that the numbers make it turn out alright.

If just one percent are coplanar
Then it’s a no-brainer
That we can get a significant amount

For one percent of a billion
Is still 10 million
And that’s a conservative count

But how does it happen,
This magical dampening
Of something so large and so bright?

Well by keeping tight count
Of the photon amount
That comes at us all through the night

We can see a slight dimming
Not the same as a shimmering
But an actual reduction in flux

This corresponds to a planet
In the midst of a transit
And doesn’t rely on your luck

Now it takes just one percent
Of the total light sent
For us to measure a light curve

So by keeping close track
Of the light in the black
All that’s left to do is observe

So transits were successful and proved possible to find
Causing NASA and others to make up their mind
To commission a ‘scope, one sent up in space
That really began to heat up this race.

Kepler’s its name and it had just one purpose
To stare at the sky and report it back to us.
At one spot it looked with an unwavering eye
Capturing everything that happened in that small chunk of sky.

For three years it looked and the data’s still coming!
But in that short time it found way more than a dozen.
First 20, then 50, and finally a hundred
And astronomers were stoked that it actually got funded

And now here we are, not many years later
the numbers are high and they keep getting greater
In fact, in this very month 1200 more were announced
More than doubling the number of the confirmed planet count

So the science is great and the research exciting
And if you want to get involved it seems really inviting.
But there’s just one problem with these giant surveys
You'll need a PhD, 12 years, and millions you can pay.

But wait! Wait! That can't be all!
I didn't come here just to put up a wall
And while PhDs and giant missions are great
That's no way to get the public to relate.

And if there's one thing we've learned from all this open source
It's that everyday people want in on discourse
So we're happy to say you can help find exoplanets in full force

How do you do it? Why, Project PANOPTES, of course!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


Are you in Austin, TX for OSCON? Come see our talk!

Jennifer Tong (Google), Wilfred Gee (Macquarie University / Project PANOPTES)
5:10pm–5:50pm Thursday, 05/19/2016
In Real Life
Location: Ballroom B


Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars other than our sun. Until now, exoplanet discovery was the exclusive domain of professional scientists: large observatories discovered the first exoplanets in the 1990s; in the 2000s, NASA built the $600 million Kepler space telescope and discovered over 1000 planets. PANOPTES, which combines inexpensive, off-the-shelf components with open source hardware and software to build a geographically dispersed array of small observing telescopes, brings exoplanet science to amateur astronomers and school students.

Jenny Tong, a developer advocate at Google, and Wilfred Gee, an astronomer from the University of Hawaii, demonstrate how open source can discover planets. Jenny and Wilfred explain what PANOPTES is made of, how it observes the sky, and how raw data turns into candidate planets. Come join us to prove that a worldwide team of open source observers is better than a single multimillion-dollar telescope. You too can discover planets around other stars.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

PANOPTES at AstroDay

April 30th marked the 15th annual AstroDay event at the local mall, with heavy participation by everyone with the Big Island astronomy community. This year PANOPTES had their own booth right near the main stage and we were able to set up a demonstration unit, poster, and a simple light curve demo.
Olivier demonstrating how light curves work with a small red planet and bright light.

The event is always good for the local community, allowing keiki (kids) and families the opportunity to directly interact with astronomers and staff of the local observatories. There was wide interest in PANOPTES at the event, with people understanding the potential educational and scientific value. And kids love being able to see a moving unit!

Local keiki preparing a planet for transit.
We also put together a small piece of software that can easily demonstrate how light curves are formed using just a webcam and a bright light source. By plotting the decrease in light as various "planets" are moved in front of the light source, people are easier able to understand how PANOPTES works via the transit method to look for exoplanets. We took a number of pictures at the event so checkout out the gallery.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the booth this year! Thanks also to Subaru Telescope for the support!

Various light curves created at AstroDay. Click for gallery.

Olivier testing the light curve demo for the first time.