Exoplanets – Find and Help Scientists
If you’ve always wanted to find your own planet, now’s your opportunity. Researchers are seeking public assistance in locating exoplanets, which are planets that orbit stars outside of our Solar System.
A multinational organisation of astronomers, the Planet Hunters Next-Generation Transit Search (NGTS), has five years’ worth of digital video to sort through. If you accept the mission, it will be your job to look for stars that dim briefly, maybe indicating that a planet is passing in front of them.
How to find Exoplanets?
Experts call this a transit, but you don’t need any prior experience to participate in attempting to locate one. To filter through the photos gathered by the NGTS telescopes stationed at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Paranal Observatory in Chile, all you need is a keen eye and some patience.
“It’s thrilling to be able to involve the public in our hunt for planets around other stars,” said NGTS leader and astrophysicist Peter Wheatley of the University of Warwick in the UK. “We’re very convinced several planets are missing from our computer programmes.”
“These will be the oddest signals, and thus the planets that will be the most interesting. I’m excited to see what our volunteers uncover. Humans are still wiser than machines.”
Lot of Information to Process
There’s a lot of information to sort through: The NGTS telescopes take pictures of thousands of stars in the sky every ten seconds. Possible transit events are flagged using algorithms, although these algorithms aren’t ideal.
The software can distinguish between dimmings that aren’t exoplanets and dimmings that are – which is where individuals come in. If you elect to participate, you’ll be shown charts of ‘folded’ light curves, or the measurement of a star’s brightness as it varies over time mixed with the software’s assessment of a planet’s likely orbit.
Task to Classify Charts
Your task will be to classify these charts and identify the forms they depict, with volunteers and professionals cross-checking each finding to see if any exoplanets have been missed.
“The automatic algorithms generate a large number of plausible candidate transit events, which the NGTS team must analyse to determine if they are real or not,” says astronomer Meg Schwamb of Queen’s University Belfast in the United Kingdom.
“While the majority of the objects detected by the computers are not exoplanets, a small number of these candidates are fresh bona fide planet finds.”
Plenty of Aid to find Exoplanets
Visit get started, go to the Planet Hunters NGST page. There is no application process or charge to participate; all you need is a web browser and a desire to learn new things. Thousands of volunteers have already stepped forward, but there is still more to be done.
These types of citizen science discoveries happen more frequently than you may expect. From an Australian mechanic who discovered an odd four-planet solar system to a British amateur metal detectorist who discovered a massive stockpile of old Roman artifacts, there’s something for everyone.
If you get stuck, there’s plenty of aid available, and who knows, you might end up contributing to the search for planets outside our solar system.