Stellar Nights program Sept. 21 to focus on the hunt for new planets

The Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory is celebrating the anniversary of “The Sloan Digital Sky Survey: Ten Years Observing the Universe” with a series of special Stellar Nights lectures this fall. “New Worlds on our Doorstep: Hunting for Planets” will be given by astronomer Joshua Pepper on Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 7 p.m. at the observatory.

Pepper is a post-doctoral fellow in physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University. His research focuses on the discovery of extrasolar planets, or planets that orbit stars other than our sun. He is the director of the KELT project, which uses small robotic telescopes to search for planets that eclipse their host stars.  He is a coordinator with the MARVELS survey, a SDSS project to search for planets via the “wobble” method around 10,000 stars in the Galaxy.  

Reservations are required, and the cost is $5 per person or $10 per family. Reservations can be made by visiting the website at and clicking on the calendar.

The next program in the series will be held on Oct. 19 and will focus on information the SDSS has provided about the stars.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) is one of the most influential astronomical surveys in history. It uses a 2.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory, New Mexico, and is equipped with a 120-megapixel camera that can image 1.5 square degrees of sky at once. Over eight years of operations, it obtained deep, multi-color images covering more than a quarter of the sky and created three-dimensional maps containing more than 930,000 galaxies and 120,000 quasars. The latest survey currently being conducted, known as SDSS-III, is examining dark energy, the evolution of the Milky Way galaxy and the architecture of exoplanetary systems.

 Stellar Nights at Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory are special lectures and programs geared for teens and adults.  These events typically feature a speaker followed by a telescope viewing, weather permitting.  Stellar Nights are cancelled only in the case of severe weather.

The observatory is located at 1000 Oman Drive, off Granny White Pike between Old Hickory Boulevard and Otter Creek Road, near Radnor Lake. For more information, visit

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