University students with a strong interest on exoplanets who are willing to engage in astronomical research with telescopic observations face challenges since many higher education institutions are located in areas with poor observing conditions. Traditionally, a small number of students are given the opportunity to travel to an observatory, but lack of funding in most institutions in combination with pandemic related travel restrictions led to a further reduction of such observation excursions. Having said that, remote observing capabilities can offer access to telescope facilities and can also be used for educational purposes. However, remote observing requires a coordinated approach including the scheduling and the tools used to obtain integrated scientific results.
Open science projects, such as the ExoClock project can be used as a tool to educate students and engage them with exoplanet research. This provides an excellent chance for university students to undertake cutting-edge science that also has a meaningful impact on a future space mission.
2. ExoClock Project
ExoClock is an international and educational project for exoplanet enthusiasts around the world with the primary goal of monitoring transiting exoplanets and keeping their respective ephemerides up-to-date. The project promotes the idea that research is an effort that everyone can contribute and, thus, it is open to collaborations with amateur astronomers and encourages the participation of school and university students.
To facilitate this, user-friendly tools and a dedicated website have been developed as part of the project. The website includes audiovisual educational material, data analysis tools, instructions, observational data and graphics [1,2]. All sources are online, free, and available for everyone. ExoClock aims to facilitate a coordinated programme of ground-based observations to maximise the efficiency of the Ariel space mission aiming to observe 1000 exoplanets and characterize their atmospheres .
3. Las Cumbres Observatory
ExoClock in collaboration with the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) provided us with observing time to obtain some exoplanet transits while priority was given to participants and especially students and pre-amateur astronomers that didn't have access to equipment. We utilized the LCO network’s ground-based 0.4 m robotic telescopes , with access provided via the ORBYTS programme (Original Research by Young Twinkle Students); an educational research programme working in collaboration with ExoClock .
The LCO network consists of six sites which host 0.4 m (roughly 16 inches) telescopes which are spread across both the northern and southern hemispheres as shown in Figure 1. Specifically, we utilized the 0.4 m telescope at Cerro Tololo Observatory located in Chile, (lat, lon) = (-30.2°, -70.8°), using its imaging mode and the SDSS-rp filter.
By loading in the size and location of the telescope, the ExoClock platform provides a scheduler with a list of potential observations over the coming days; an example of this schedule is shown in Figure 2.