During his senior year, Mark Evans, a 2010 grad, used the telescope at the College’s observatory to detect an extrasolar planet—a planet much like Jupiter or Saturn orbiting a star hundreds of lightyears away. Working with physics professor Dr. Jonathan Langton, Evans used the “transit” method to detect CoRoT-2b, one of some 500 (and growing) known exoplanets. CoRoT-2b is 800 lightyears from Earth and orbits its parent star every 1.7 days.

Over the course of a night, using a CCD (similar to a precision digital camera), Evans took hundreds of images of the star CoRoT-2b orbits and its neighbors. Later, he and Langton used a computer to measure the brightness of the star in each picture and graphed its brightness over the course of the night. (When a planet moves in front of a star, the star’s level of brightness drops, so even though you can’t see the planet, you can tell it’s there.)

This detection was a milestone for Principia’s observatory, proving its telescope is powerful enough not just to detect but to discover planets beyond our solar system.

“At bigger schools, you’re just getting TAs, but here there’s a sense of joy around the individual attention from the faculty.”