NASA provides analysis software to aid in the study of exoplanets

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NASA is asking for volunteers to help study exoplanets. Non-scientists can also participate. Those interested can use their telescope, but data from others can also be searched. The latter is done via analysis software that NASA makes available.

It’s about it Exoplanet Watch programwhich started in 2018. According to NASA this program had limitations in the number of participants who could sift through data collected by other telescopes, but now that data is available to everyone. The analyzes go through software called Exoplanet Transit Interpretation Code, or Exotic.

NASA says no experience is needed to use it and there will be guides and instructions offered. A Google account is required to use this software, because Google Colab is part of the system. This is software that NASA scientists also use. Interested parties can download data or consult it via the cloud and then use the analysis tool.

The data to be analyzed comes from a small telescope located in Tucson, Arizona, USA. The project includes ten years of exoplanet observations, and this year will include additional data from the two other telescopes at the Table Mountain facility in Southern California operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

These telescopes are mainly used to discover new exoplanets. This is done via the well-known transit method, which looks at small variations in the light from a star, which can be caused by a planet in its orbit around the star blocking a small amount of light as it passes in front of the star. The main aim is for participants to observe planets that have already been discovered, so that more can be learned about their orbits around the star.

The idea is that the time between the transits of exoplanets indicates how long it takes for an exoplanet to orbit its parent star. The more transits are measured, the more accurately the length of the track can be calculated. If the timing of the orbit is not measured precisely, scientists who want to study the planets in more detail with large ground-based or space-based telescopes may lose valuable observation time as they have to wait for the planet to appear. The idea is that if volunteers search the data, a lot of calculation and processing time is saved. In addition, participants will look for variations in the brightness of stars.

Interested parties who have their own telescope can also help by collecting data. The larger the telescope, the more targets can be found, but there is no minimum size requirement for the telescope, according to NASA. The idea is that several observations of the same target are made, so that they can be combined and a more precise picture is created. Moreover, several observations of a transit from different places on Earth are useful, because a transit can last a long time and the star in question may then have disappeared from view during the transit. More than 5,000 exoplanets have been discovered to date.

Source: NASA, Bill Dunford

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