NASA is asking for your help to study exoplanets

With new tools like the James Webb Space Telescope, we’re discovering more exoplanets than ever and even peering into their atmospheres. Now, NASA is asking for the public’s

help in learning more about some of the exoplanets that have already been detected in a citizen science program called Exoplanet Watch. “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 a statement. “We’re excited to show more people how exoplanet science is really done.” The Exoplanet Watch project has two parts, one involving

observing for those who have access to a telescope, and one involving identifying exoplanets in existing data. Even if you don’t have access to equipment other than a computer or

smartphone, you can still help in learning about exoplanets by requesting access to data collected by robotic telescopes and assisting with data analysis. That’s needed because

observing exoplanets passing in front of their host stars — in events called transits — is only half of the challenge of finding a new planet. These transits result in dips in the

star’s brightness, but these dips are very small at typically less than 1% of the star’s brightness. These transits need to be observed multiple times to work out a

planet’s orbit, so that is the primary task of the project — getting members of the public to help refine data on already known exoplanets. By having humans do tasks that

computers are still quite poor at, like recognizing patterns, more data can be analyzed and the pace of exoplanet discovery and characterization can be improved.