A new exoplanet discovery program for citizen scientists

The SETI Institute and its partner Unistellar have launched a new exoplanet discovery program for citizen scientists around the world.

Known as the “Unistellar Exoplanet Campaign,” amateur astronomers will be able to confirm exoplanets—planets orbiting a star outside the solar system—identified by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

They will do this by observing possible transits of exoplanets, which occur when a planet passes between its star and the observer, causing a temporary dimming of the star that can be recorded by ground-based telescopes. The most famous exoplanets were discovered by the transit method.

There are over 5,100 confirmed exoplanets. With thousands of other discoveries to confirm, and some estimates suggesting that TESS will detect more than 10,000 candidate exoplanets, the demand for follow-up observations is greater than ever.

This is necessary to determine whether unconfirmed exoplanet candidates are potentially “false positives”, as a star’s dimming over a period of time can also be caused by another object in front of it.

For example, in an eclipsed binary system in which two stars orbit each other, the light from one can sometimes be hidden behind the other.

Confirmed exoplanets also need to be re-observed using ground-based systems so that their “orbital ephemeris,” their trajectory across the sky over time, remains up-to-date.

This is where citizen scientists come in.

Observation of three gaseous exoplanets

The campaign will provide career advice and curated goals that will focus specifically on exo-Jupiters – gas giant planets that are physically similar to Jupiter.

One of the latest achievements of the network is the discovery of candidate exoplanet TOI 1812.01. It is 563 light-years from Earth in a multiplanetary system consisting of three gaseous planets: a 3-Earth-radius planet in an 11-day orbit; 5 Earth radius in 43 day orbit; and an outer planet 9 radii from Earth (TOI 1812.01) that orbits previously unknown.

During three possible transit windows in July and August 2022, 20 amateur astronomers contributed 27 data sets in seven countries to the project. With this, they were able to confirm that TOI 1812.01 has an orbital period of 112 days.

This work, including the Unistellar observations, is being prepared for a manuscript that will formally confirm the nature of the planetary system and will be presented at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Paris, France.

“Observing exoplanets like TOI 1812.01 as they transit or transit their host stars is a crucial part of confirming their nature as true planets and ensuring our ability to study such planetary systems in the future,” says Dr. Paul Dalba, SETI. Scientific Research Institute. “The specific properties of this planet, namely its long orbit and long transit time, place it in a category where globally coordinated citizen science like the Single Star Network can be very effective. »

“This early success shows the power of taking science directly into people’s hands; A fundamental principle of this partnership between the SETI Institute, Unistellar and NASA,” adds Dr. Tom Esposito, SETI Institute Scientist and Director of Space Science at Unistellar. “Citizen astronomers from around the world coming together to educate humanity about new planets discovered trillions of miles away is simply amazing. »

Objectives of observation will be announced periodically. here.

There are other citizen science programs available through the Unistellar network if you’re more interested in discovering near-Earth objects for planetary defense or asteroids heading for distant stars.

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