NASA’s Universe of Learning’s Exoplanet Watch is a citizen science project, geared toward citizen scientists (with or without a background in astronomy), amateur astronomers, colleges and universities, to observe transiting exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — with small (6” or larger) telescopes. A transiting exoplanet is one that periodically passes in front of its host star, causing the star to appear to slightly dim (typically by ~1%). Observing exoplanet transits is important, as they allow the direct measurement of a planet’s radius and composition. Ground-based observations with small telescopes can help astronomers measure more accurately how quickly a planet orbits around its host star, which provides more accurate measurements of the planets’ mass. Exoplanet Watch will help increase the efficiency of exoplanet studies by large ground-based and space-based telescopes to characterize exoplanet atmospheres by reducing uncertainty about the predicted timing of transit events.
Exoplanet Watch will:
Ensure efficient use of large telescopes — more accurately predict future transits for follow-up with large telescope (e.g., the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope)
Discover new exoplanets — using transit timing variations to infer the existence of an additional exoplanet in a extrasolar system
Monitor stellar variability — measure changes in brightness due to star spots on a host star that can alter the observed exoplanet’s signal
Confirm new exoplanets — help confirm newly discovered exoplanets
Citizen scientists will observe their own transiting exoplanets, reduce and analyze their own data, and then upload their results to the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) Exoplanet Database to share their results with the professional exoplanet community. Exoplanet Watch participants will analyze observations of transiting exoplanets using the project’s free EXOTIC (Exoplanet Timing Interpretation Code) software and use this data to help study exoplanets and publish the results on the Exoplanet Watch website. If a participant’s light curve is used in a scientific paper, the participant’s name will be listed as a co-author on the paper.
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