The SETI Institute has partnered with telescope maker Unistellar in a citizen science campaign asking space fans for help in discovering massive hot Jupiter exoplanet candidates identified by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). .
“There are far too many planet candidates discovered by NASA’s TESS mission. And we want to keep observing them when they’re not in TESS’s field of view,” said Franck Marchis, SETI’s lead planetary astronomer The registry.
“So this network is key for tracking and trying to observe difficult objects like long-period exoplanets where the uncertainty could be large, greater than the duration of a night in one place.”
Since the discovery of the very first exoplanet 30 years ago, over 5,000 extraterrestrial planets have been confirmed. Before 1992, the only worlds glimpsed by scientists were objects within the solar system. Cataloging exoplanets opens a whole new field of astronomy, helping scientists understand what exists in space and whether there may be another planet supporting intelligent life.
The vast majority of exoplanets are discovered using the transit method. Space observatories like the now-defunct Kepler telescope and TESS measure the light from distant stars and detect whenever their brightness changes.
Periodic dimming is a telltale sign that an object is orbiting the star. Whenever planets pass or intersect in front of the star, the star’s luminosity temporarily decreases. By measuring the length and magnitude of these events, researchers can estimate the orbital period, radius and mass of the exoplanet.
Thousands of new candidates have been discovered and TESS can identify over 10,000 more. Astronomers need to watch them more closely, and there are too many to study.
“The demand for follow-up observations of transiting exoplanets is greater than ever,” the SETI Institute said in a statement.
“Regular reobservations by ground-based systems are necessary for confirmed planets to keep their orbital ephemeris updated. The potential for citizen scientists to contribute to exoplanet research is high and has exciting implications for STEM education.”
Along with Unistellar, a company that makes smart telescopes for amateur astronomers, the nonprofit is helping citizen scientists conduct follow-up observations to find Exo-Jupiter.
Additional data will help TESS confirm whether a candidate is a real exoplanet or a false positive like an eclipsing binary. The Unistellar Exoplanet Campaign provides professional mentoring and creates a list of targets to hunt for.
Citizen scientists have already helped astronomers study systems like TOI 1812, a solar system 563 light-years from Earth and home to three exoplanets. The radii and orbital periods were known for two planets, except for the Saturn-sized world, codenamed TOI 1812.01. A network of 20 astronomers from seven countries observed the candidate exoplanet and successfully confirmed that its orbital period was 112 days last month.
“Observing exoplanets like TOI 1812.01 as they transit or pass by their host stars is a critical component in confirming their nature as true planets and ensuring we are able to study these planetary systems in the future,” said Paul Dalba, SETI Institute Research Scientist and 51 Pegasi b Fellow of the Heising-Simons Foundation.
“The specific characteristics of this planet, namely its long orbit and long transit time, place it in a category where a globally coordinated citizen science such as the Unistellar Network can be extremely effective.”
Space fans who want to get involved ideally have a telescope to observe exoplanet transits and log the object’s coordinates and exposure times. Anyone can join the Slack channel and interact with other Citizen Scientists.
“This early success demonstrates the power of putting science directly in the hands of people, a core principle of this partnership between the SETI Institute, Unistellar and NASA,” added Tom Esposito, research assistant at the SETI Institute and director of space science at Unistellar. added.
“Citizen astronomers around the world coming together to educate humanity about new planets being discovered so many trillions of miles away is, quite simply, amazing.” ®