'Corps of Discovery' for the 21st Century
Hand-built Panoptes telescope for exoplanet exploration (credit: Project Panoptes)
Like the Lewis & Clark 19th Century Corps of Discovery, which set out to explore unknown lands, a new project of exploration has begun. This time the discoveries will be appropriate for the 21st Century. PANOPTES (Panoptic Astronomical Networked Observatories for a Public Transiting Exoplanets Survey) is a crowd-sourced effort that aims to build low cost, robotic telescopes which can be used to detect far-off exoplanets. The hope is that 'citizen scientists' will join forces with large space laboratories and use their hand-built telescopes and computers to discover more of these strange worlds in distant solar systems.
According to NASA, Panoptes is named after Argus Panoptes, a creature in Greek mythology with the ability to see in all directions. The goal of Panoptes is to build a collaborative, world-wide, network of observatories that will survey the night sky for nearby exoplanets with individuals joining the effort. So far, three small telescopes have been constructed: a prototype on Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano; a unit built at Wheaton College in Illinois; and the first handmade telescope attached to an off-the-shelf computer, rather than a mainframe machine, in Australia. Cost estimates for building an individual Panoptes telescope are ~$5000 to build a unit. They will likely be constructed by astronomy clubs or graduate school programs.
A designer with the project offered more information in a presentation at the University of Hawai'i.
So go down to your local ACE Hardware, Lowes, or Home Depot, gather up the required parts, and build yourself an exoplanet hunting telescope. You'll be following in the footsteps of that other great 'corps of discovery' but one for this century.