Remote Telescopes for Exoplanet Searches
The Small Telescope Extrasolar Transit Search (STExTS) project involves undergraduates in research using ground-based small aperture, wide-angle telescopes to search for transiting exoplanets of stars down to 13th magnitude. The observational campaigns in 2015 and 2016 used the Monroe Observatory of the University of North Texas with a f=1.5 152 mm astrograph installed for remote observing and in 2017 twin f=1.25 152 mm astrographs were remotely accessed at the Dark Sky Observatory Collective (DSOC) near Ft. Davis, TX. Hardware and the use of commercial software for remote operation of the telescope and camera were installed and coordinated by the team. Observational campaigns usually run 25 to 35 nights, capturing 5000+ stars per image, 250 image per night of the same region of the sky. A software processing pipeline and SQL database were created for the searches. The pipeline examines the images, calibrates them, extracts the stars, and matches each star with an astronomical catalog of stars for identification. Finally a complex photometric analysis is performed to measure the light curve of every star, the results of which are stored in the project SQL database hosted by the University of Dallas. PERANSO and VARTOOLs are used to analyze the light curve and to identify stars of interest. The STExTS team has found six candidates for exoplanets, as well as discovering numerous new RR Lyrae variable stars and W UMa binaries. The process of converting the astrograph to remote use, the development of the data pipeline, the role of student researchers, and a new exoplanet candidate, GSC 2087-1126, are presented.