NASA wants the NASA Exoplanet Observatory to help you study planets around other stars

It’s no secret that the study of exoplanets has exploded since the turn of the century. Whereas astronomers knew of fewer than a dozen exoplanets twenty years ago, thousands of planet candidates are available for study today. Actually, as of January 13, 2023A total of 5,241 planets in 3,916 star systems have been confirmed, while another 9,169 candidates are awaiting confirmation. While the opportunities to search for exoplanets have grown exponentially, so has the arduous task of sorting through the vast amounts of data involved.

This is why astronomers, universities, research institutes and space agencies have come to rely on citizen scientists in recent years. With the help of online resources, data sharing, and networks, skilled hobbyists can devote their time, energy, and resources to searching for planets outside our solar system. In recognition of its importance, NASA launched Watching an exoplaneta sponsored citizen science project NASA Learning Scientist. This project allows ordinary people to learn about exoplanets and to participate in the discovery and characterization process.

The NASA Universe of Learning team is made up of scientists, engineers, and educators who connect the public with data, discoveries, and experts directly related to NASA astrophysics missions. They also rely on a national network of informal educators, scientists, and engineers who assist NASA in developing mission data and educational resources. Its purpose is to enhance engagement between NASA and the public and to encourage learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Exoplanet Watch project involves users converting images of planetary transits into light curves, which includes the most widely used and effective method for detecting exoplanets to date. This is known as transient photometry (aka the transit method), in which periodic dips in a star’s brightness are attributed to planets passing in front of it (transiting) relative to the observer. This method is effective for detecting exoplanets and constraining their sizes and orbital periods (which helps astronomers determine potential habitability).

By participating in Exoplanet Watch, citizen scientists will get the chance to learn how exoplanet science is done from start to finish, from data collection and processing to sharing data and publishing research papers that incorporate it. Participants are provided with a free program called EXOplanet transit interpretation code (EXOTIC), which allows them to convert telescope images of transiting exoplanets into light curves. Pictures can be taken by participants who have access to a telescope with a camera or they can be requested using the project’s data pull system by those who do not.

This system contains many photos taken by MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Networka series of distant telescopes operated by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) f Las Cumbres Observatory. Exoplanet Watch also has access to telescope data managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech. materials used by learning world It is based on NASA’s collaborative work with CfA, JPL, and Caltech’s Infrared processing and analysis center (IPAC) and Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).

The results must then be uploaded to a file American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) Exoplanet Database It will be included in Exoplanet Watch results page. If these results are used in a scientific paper, the person who submitted them will be listed as a co-author and credited for contributing to exoplanet research. Users are also encouraged to subscribe to Exoplanet Watch’s Slack workspacewhere they will have the opportunity to participate in fortnightly meetings, talk to professional astronomers, and collaborate with other citizen scientists.

An illustration of the differences between the more than 5,000 known exoplanets discovered since the 1990s. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As of January 2023, Exoplanet Watch participants have studied more than 270 different exoplanets and created nearly 1,400 light curves. Those interested are encouraged to check out How to participate To find out more and to sign up for Monthly newsletter. As NASA says on the Exoplanet Watch website, no experience or even equipment is required:

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or astrophysicist to actively participate in the study of distant worlds. We’ll teach you what you need to know to become a citizen scientist collecting important data on exoplanets. No telescope? No problem! You can use our data-pulling system to request data from a planetary observation extrasolar system to analyze yourself.

Further reading: NASA

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