The Searchlight Observatory Network

The Searchlight Observatory Network’s (SON) role is to coordinate observations access to the telescope network for members to progress their research programs.

The supported research areas include the monitoring of variable stars, the search  and follow-up of new exoplanets discoveries and the discovery and monitoring of minor planets.  Members are comprised of advanced amateur and professional astronomers.

The common factor for the SON science projects is ultra-sensitive polarimetry. The Son is developing novel instrumentation and has established a network of telescopes that, while of modest aperture, now have unique capabilities to do 1e-5 broadband polarimetry.

With this new capability we are able to detect and study the atmospheres of otherwise invisible planets. 

We aim to use the instruments for long duration surveys of stars to detect transiting exo-planetary systems and minor planet discovery and follow-up observations. We will be following up on newly discovered planets where the intervals between successive transits will be measured with an accuracy of 0.1 to 100 minutes. Our objective is to show that these timing measurements will allow for the detection of additional planets in the system (not necessarily transiting) by their gravitational interaction with the transiting planet. The transit time variations depend on the mass of the additional planet, and in some cases terrestrial-mass planets will produce a measurable effect. In systems where two planets are seen to transit, the density of both planets can be determined without radial velocity observations .

Our consortium involves the world’s foremost experts for instrumental and theoretical polarimetry studies. The scientific program has already detected new extrasolar planets using this tehnique.