Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Citizen Science: Help NASA Find Exo-planets

Time-lapse of exoplanets orbit motion

This video-clip (of images taken between 2009 and 2016) shows four Exo-planets orbiting their host star, HR 8799. (Image Sources:, By Jason Wang (Caltech)/Christian Marois (NRC Herzberg), CC BY 4.0,

By Glenn A. Walsh

Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is looking for help from Citizen Scientists in the continuing search for Exo-planets, planets beyond our Solar System. Whether you have your own telescope, or want to use a computer or smart-phone, JPL has a way for citizens to help in this important research.

Although begun in 2018, Exoplanet Watch has now been enhanced to make it easier for Citizen Scientists to help. While more than 5,000 Exo-planets have already been discovered, scientists estimate that there could be millions more just within our own Milky Way Galaxy.

Internet link to the NASA JPL Exoplanet Web-Site near the end of this blog-post.

With Exoplanet Watch you can learn how to observe exoplanets and do data analysis using software that actual NASA scientists use,” said Rob Zellem, the creator of Exoplanet Watch and an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We’re excited to show more people how exoplanet science is really done.”

Help NASA With Your Computer

Although Exoplanet Watch is only five years old, NASA actually has ten years of Exo-planet observations, collected from a small ground-based telescope south of Tuscon, Arizona. And, this year JPL will start collecting data from two more telescopes at the Table Mountain facility in Southern California.

These telescopes are used to search for Exo-planet Transits. Similar to a Solar Eclipse on Earth, an Exo-planet Transit occurs when an Exo-planet eclipses or transits the host star, slightly dimming the light coming from the host star for a short period of time.

You can use your computer or smart-phone to comb though data of Exo-planets already discovered by NASA. You would observe a particular Exo-planet to learn more about its orbit around the host star. This could help determine the time it takes for this Exo-planet to make one orbit. The more frequent an Exo-planet Transit often means that this planet is closer to the host star, and may be too close, and hence too hot, to harbor life.

But, once scientists know how often an Exo-planet orbits a star, the easier it is for them to know when that Exo-planet is available for further study. Scientists can then schedule observing time on a large ground-based telescope or a space telescope; such time is restricted and very competitive, as many scientists wish to use a particular large telescope.

Exoplanet Watch participants could also use the data to search for variations in the apparent brightness of stars. The brightness of such stars could be caused by solar flares or sunspots seen on the star. This would help scientists determine the variability of a particular star, before beginning the study of an Exo-planet circling the star.

Help NASA With Your Telescope

For amateur astronomers, or the occasional star-gazer, with their own telescope, you could possibly collect your own scientific data for Exoplanet Watch.

Of course, the larger telescope available to you, the more stars and potential Exo-planets you may be able to observe. However, even someone with a 6-inch / 15 centimeter reflector telescope could possibly search for Exo-planet Transits around hundreds of nearby stars.

Observations of a particular star, by several participants, are used to gain more information about that star. This is particularly useful if the different observers are in different parts of the world.

So, Exoplanet Watch is not just for Americans. NASA welcomes anyone in the world to participate in this important Citizen Science research.

AND, you can receive scientific credit for your work helping to discover a particular Exo-planet. An Exoplanet Watch policy states that for the first use of observations or analysis done by volunteers, those volunteers must be listed as co-authors on the published, scientific research paper.

I hope this program lowers barriers to science for a lot of people and inspires the next generation of astronomers to join our field,” said Dr. Zellem.

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

NASA JPL Exoplanet Watch Web-Site: Link >>>

Exo-planets: Link >>>

Astronomical Transit: Link >>>

More Citizen Science Projects: Link >>>

Related Blog-Posts ---

"Public Invited to Search for Planets in Other Star Systems." Mon., 2017 March 27.

"Name an Exo-Planet by Oct. 31." Wed., 2015 Oct. 14.

Link >>>

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss          

               Wednesday, 2023 February 8.

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Glenn A. Walsh, Informal Science Educator & Communicator                                                               (For more than 50 years! - Since Monday Morning, 1972 June 12):
Link >>>
Electronic Mail: < >
Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss: Link >>>
SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: Link >>>
Formerly Astronomical Observatory Coordinator & Planetarium Lecturer, original Buhl Planetarium & Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center), America's fifth major planetarium and Pittsburgh's science & technology museum from 1939 to 1991.
Formerly Trustee, Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie, Pennsylvania, the fourth of only five libraries where both construction and endowment funded by famous industrialist & philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh: Link >>>  Buhl Observatory: Link >>>
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago: Link >>>
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear: Link >>>
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries: Link >>>

* Other Walsh-Authored Blog & Web-Sites: Link >>>

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