TRENDING SCIENCE: Now’s the chance to discover your own planet!

A UK university is looking for volunteers to find planets beyond our solar system.

Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars outside of our solar system. More than 4 800 exoplanets have been discovered since the 1990s. About every 27 months, the number of known exoplanets doubles. There are several thousand more out there that need to be further observed to confirm if they are exoplanets. The European Space Agency has launched one of its three dedicated exoplanet satellites as part of its own discovery mission.

Are you an armchair astronomer, or simply someone who thinks the idea of helping scientists identify new exoplanets is cool? Then researchers at Queen’s University Belfast in the United Kingdom (UK) want you! The educational institution is one of nine different universities and observatories involved in the Planet Hunters Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) project. Over the past 5 years, they’ve gathered footage showing stars from other solar systems that needs sifting through. The European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Chile is collecting footage from 12 robotic telescopes.Computer software checks this footage to identify potential exoplanets. Even though the computers do a very good job, the NGTS team believes there might be some planets in the footage not spotted by the algorithms. This is where you come in.

“It is exciting to be able to involve the public in our search for planets around other stars,” commented NGTS lead and astrophysicist Prof. Peter Wheatley from the University of Warwick in the UK in a press release. “We control the NGTS telescopes from the University of Warwick, and we process all the data here, but we are pretty sure our computer programs are missing some planets. These will be the most unusual signals and so probably some of the most interesting planets. Humans are still smarter than machines, and I can’t wait to see what our volunteers unearth.”

“Every 10 seconds, the NGTS telescopes capture the light from 1,000s of stars in the sky looking for the tell-tale signatures of an exoplanet transit,” explained astronomer Dr Meg Schwamb, from Queen’s University Belfast. “Most of things spotted by the computers are not due to exoplanets, but a small handful of these candidates are new bona fide planet discoveries.”There are no forms to complete or fees to pay. Anyone is able to explore the data, begin searching for exoplanets and assist in examining the best candidate planets identified on the website. Just go here and join the nearly 3 000 volunteers already involved in the exoplanet hunt.

You’ll see charts of light readings taken of stars – called folded light curves, these measurements show a star’s brightness over a period of time. You need to categorise these charts and distinguish the shapes that they show. Volunteers and experts will cross-check your finding. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of help on the site to get you started.

Could you be the first citizen scientist to find an exoplanet not known before?

last modification: 2021-11-08 17:15:01
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