Citizen Scientists Discover Five-Planet System

Caltech News tagged with “astronomy + exoplanets + JPL + planetary_science”

In its search for exoplanets—planets outside of our solar system—NASA’s Kepler telescope trails behind Earth, measuring the brightness of stars that may potentially host planets. The instrument identifies potential planets around other stars by looking for dips in the brightness of the stars that occur when planets cross in front of, or transit, them. Typically, computer programs flag the stars with these brightness dips, then astronomers look at each one and decide whether or not they truly could host a planet candidate.Over the three years of the K2 mission, 287,309 stars have been observed, and tens of thousands more roll in every few months. So how do astronomers sift through all that data?Enter the Exoplanet Explorers citizen scientist project, developed by UC Santa Cruz astronomer Ian Crossfield and Caltech staff scientist Jessie Christiansen. Exoplanet Explorers is hosted on Zooniverse, an online platform for crowdsourcing research.”People anywhere can log on and learn what real signals from exoplanets look like, and then look through actual data collected from the Kepler telescope to vote on whether or not to classify a given signal as a transit, or just noise,” says Christiansen. “We have each potential transit signal looked at by a minimum of 10 people, and each needs a minimum of 90 percent of ‘yes’ votes to be considered for further characterization.”In early April, just two weeks after the initial prototype of Exoplanet Explorers was set up on Zooniverse, it was featured in a three-day event on the ABC Australia television series Stargazing Live. In the first 48 hours after the project was introduced, Exoplanet Explorers received over 2 million classifications from more than 10,000 users. Included in that search was a brand-new dataset from the K2 mission—the reincarnation of the primary Kepler mission, ended three years ago. K2 has a whole new field of view and crop of stars around which …

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