NASA's Exoplanet Watch program encourages citizen scientists to assist in the tracking of planets outside our solar system, often known as exoplanets. Participants can use their own telescopes to search for exoplanets or analyze information from other telescopes using a computer or smartphone.
"With Exoplanet Watch you can learn how to observe exoplanets and do data analysis using software that actual NASA scientists use," Rob Zellem, the creator of Exoplanet Watch and an astrophysicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, said in a statement. "We're excited to show more people how exoplanet science is really done."
Most exoplanets have been discovered using the transit method, which includes watching for a little fading of the host star when the planet passes in front of it. It can be determined how long it takes an exoplanet to orbit its parent star by measuring the intervals between transits.
The more transits that are observed, the more precisely the orbital length is known. Furthermore, no matter what size telescope you're using, Exoplanet Watch can teach you how to find exoplanet transits if you have your own telescope.
Exoplanet Watch was launched in 2018 as part of NASA's Universe of Learning, one of the organization's Science Activation initiatives that enable anybody to learn about science and explore the cosmos for themselves.
There were restrictions on how many people could assist in sorting through the data collected by other telescopes at the time. According to the release, the application is now more freely available, allowing anyone to download and study the data.
There are about 5,000 verified exoplanets, with the possibility of millions more yet to be discovered. These worlds have a diverse set of properties, such as dual suns, searing hot surface temperatures, and glass clouds.
Joint observations aided in the finding of HD 80606 b, an exoplanet that NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will examine later this year. This planet was discovered using data from more than 20 Exoplanet Watch participants.
Exoplanet Watch is open to everyone, telescope owner or not. Through the initiative, amateur astronomers can examine observations of exoplanets made over a period of ten years by a modest ground-based telescope south of Tucson, Arizona. This year, the program's database will also include fresh information from two telescopes at the JPL Table Mountain facility in Southern California for participants to analyze.
This information is used to improve measurements of planet transits and spot any fluctuations in the brightness of stars that might be caused by flares or dark areas on a star's surface.