If you’ve ever wanted to work for NASA, here’s your chance. Well, I’m not expecting a paycheck or any benefits, but the Agency is looking for volunteers to help process a huge amount of exoplanet data with its Exoplanet program. If you have telescopes, you can also contribute data. But if your telescope is in the back room, you can process the data they’ve collected over the years.
You might think that one way to contribute to a telescope is to have a mini-observer in your backyard, but that’s not the case. According to NASA, even a six-inch telescope can detect hundreds of exoplanet passes using the software. You can’t get paid, but the project requires the program to use the first paper, the work of the program’s volunteer co-author will receive credit for the paper. Not too dirty!
The observations involve measurements of dips in stellar brightness caused by the transit of a known exoplanet. This allows the planet’s orbit to be calculated more precisely, which helps other scientists who want to observe the planet later. This can save valuable time on large instruments by operating the telescope at the exact time an exoplanet will pass by.
We find it ironic that not so long ago science generally abandoned the ability to detect and observe extrasolar planets. Now more than 5,000 of them are known. This is 1,000 per year for a five-year project.
We love citizen science, especially when it’s space-based. There are several other projects in Zooniverse if you want a choice between space and other types of science.