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.