Dec 22nd: Cosmic Shadow Puppet Show


Podcaster: Richard Drumm
Space Scoop: Cosmic Shadow Puppet Show

Organization:365 Days Of Astronomy

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Description: Space scoop, news for children

Bio: Richard Drumm is President of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society and President of 3D – Drumm Digital Design, a video production company with clients such as Kodak, Xerox and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He was an observer with the UVa Parallax Program at McCormick Observatory in 1981 & 1982. He has found that his greatest passion in life is public outreach astronomy and he pursues it at every opportunity.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by — no one. We still need sponsors for many days in 2016, so please consider sponsoring a day or two. Just click on the “Donate” button on the lower left side of this webpage, or contact us at

This is 365 Days of Astronomy. Today we bring you a new episode in our Space Scoop series. This show is produced in collaboration with Universe Awareness, a program that strives to inspire every child with our wonderful cosmos.

Today’s story is: Cosmic Shadow Puppet Show
In the last 20 years, we’ve gone from not knowing whether any planets exist beyond our Solar System, to discovering over 3,500! We call these distant worlds exoplanets.

There are several different ways to search for exoplanets, but the most successful example is called the ‘transit method’. When a planet passes in front of its parent star, it blocks a small amount of light from the star.

In a way, it throws a shadow out into the cosmos.

Astronomers can watch this happen, like a shadow puppet show. If they see it happen regularly, we can assume a planet is orbiting the star.

Thousands of exoplanets have been discovered using this method; ranging from the size of Mars to bigger than Jupiter. But what we really want to know, is which of these planets might be hiding alien life.

Ideally, we want to find planets just like Earth, since we know without a doubt that life can survive here.

We are hunting for planets about the size of Earth that orbit at just the right distance from their star, where the temperature on the surface is suitable for liquid water. Which is an essential ingredient for life as we know it.

The next step is to search the atmosphere of the planet for the stuff related to life, such as oxygen. In just a few years, our telescopes will be able to carry out such delicate measurements.

But to do so, we need to study the movement of each planet very precisely, so we will know exactly when and where to point our telescopes.

Recently, we took an important step towards this goal. A group of researchers from Japan managed to time the orbit of a distant exoplanet more precisely than ever by studying its transits.

They used the 188 CM or 74″ telescope at Japan’s Okayama Astrophysical Observatory, and its MuSCAT multi-band imaging instrument. MuSCAT stands for the Multi-color Simultaneous Camera for studying Atmospheres of Transiting exoplanets.

This planet is called K2-3d after the Kepler space telescope’s 2nd mission, called K2, which first discovered it. It circles its star every 44.55612 days, plus or minus 18 seconds.

Hey, Here’s A Cool Fact:
We can also watch planets transit here in our Solar System. Mercury and Venus can occasionally be seen crossing in front of the Sun.

The next time you can watch this is November 11th, 2019, when Mercury will transit the Sun. We had a Mercury transit last May 9th, but here in Virginia it was all clouds that day. Oh well. What ya gonna do?

The next Venus transits will be December 10th, 2117 and December 8th, 2125. We have a long wait for that one!

I did get to see a nice Venus transit in 2012 at the Big Meadows Lodge up in the Shenandoah National Park. So cool!

There will be a simultaneous transit of both Venus and Mercury coming up that you might want to wait for. It’ll happen on July 29th, in the year 69,163.


Thank you for listening to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast!

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365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by Astrosphere New Media. Audio post-production by Richard Drumm. Bandwidth donated by and wizzard media. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at or email us at  This year we will celebrate more discoveries and stories from the universe. Join us and share your story. Until tomorrow! Goodbye!

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