NASA's Universe of Learning's Exoplanet Watch is a citizen science project, initially geared towards amateur astronomers and colleges and universities, to observe transiting exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — with small 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, particularly with small telescopes (<1 meter) constrain the exoplanet’s orbital period (how quickly a planet orbits around its host star) which in turn provides better mass measurements. Exoplanet Watch will help increase the efficiency of exoplanet studies by large 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 the next transit event 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
Search for blended pairs — spatially resolve a field to confirm the radius of a newly-discovered exoplanet
Monitor stellar variability — spots and plages of a host star can alter the observed exoplanet's signal
Confirm new exoplanets — can 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 will then analyze these data to help achieve the science goals above and then immediately publish them on our website.