Lesson Plan: Detecting Exoplanets using Transit Photometry Physics

This lesson plan includes the objectives, prerequisites, and exclusions of the lesson teaching students how to detect exoplanets using transit photometry and determine properties of the exoplanet using data collected using this method.


Students will be able to

  • recall that a transit is when a planet or exoplanet passes in front of its host star from the point of view of an observer (usually on Earth),
  • recall that we can detect the presence of an exoplanet around a distant star if it transits across the star because of the temporary decrease in the brightness of the star,
  • recall that in order for an exoplanet to transit across a star, the exoplanet’s orbit must be oriented in a certain way relative to Earth,
  • recall that the amount of light blocked by a transiting exoplanet depends on the relative sizes of the exoplanet and its host star,
  • recall that transits only last for a fraction of the orbital period of the exoplanet, so they can be difficult to observe,
  • extract useful data from a graph of the light curve of a star that has an exoplanet transiting across it.


Students should already be familiar with

  • what an exoplanet is,
  • calculating the basic properties of circular orbits,
  • apparent and absolute magnitude.


Students will not cover

  • the Doppler shift method of detecting exoplanets,
  • planet formation.

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