In 2010, when PEST was built, only about 70 transiting exoplanets had been discovered.  I was not sure a backyard telescope could detect, much less discover, exoplanets. 

Nevertheless the calculations were done, telescope assembled, and bits of wood put together.  And it’s worked out well, with exoplanet co-discoveries and other observations, of supernovae, minor planets and white dwarfs.

I’m not a professional astronomer.  I have a background in engineering and am interested in techy stuff.  My interest in astronomy was sparked when, as a kid, I watched the first moon landing on TV.  It was a while before I got my first telescope though.  When I did, visual observing quickly paled – it’s a struggle to see anything beyond planets and bright nebulae from the suburbs.  Astrophotography was next, then a supernova search.

The name PEST started off as being a bit of a joke.  An early project idea was to search M dwarfs for planets (inspired by MEarth) so any planet found would be named PEST-1b etc.  The reality is that discovery takes solid scientific horsepower as well as access to some big telescopes coupled to spectrometers for high precision radial velocity measurements.  It takes a team.  PEST now works with the KELT, HATS South and MicroFUN teams.

A couple of sources of encouragement was The Discovery of Extrasolar Planets by Backyard Astronomers (Castellano & Laughlin, 2002) and Bruce Gary’s book Exoplanet Observing for Amateurs.

If you have an idea for potential collaboration, drop me a note by clicking on Contact.