Inviting Citizen Scientists to Observe Transiting Exoplanets

Exoplanet Watch is a citizen science project to observe transiting exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — with small telescopes. A transiting exoplanet is one that periodically passes in front of its host star, causing the star to slightly dim (by about 1%). Observing exoplanet transits is important, as they allow us to directly measure a planet's radius and composition. Ground based follow up allows us to better constrain the planet’s period which allows for better mass measurements. Exoplanet Watch will help increase the efficiency of exoplanet studies by large telescopes to characterize exoplanet atmospheres by reducing uncertainty about the predicted timing of transit events.

Exoplanet Watch will:

  • Ensure efficient use of large telescopes — more accurately predict the next transit event for follow-up with large telescope (e.g., HST, JWST and ARIEL)
  • Discover new exoplanets — using transit timing variations to infer the existence of an additional exoplanet in a extrasolar system
  • Search for blended pairs — spatially resolve a field to confirm the radius of a newly-discovered exoplanet
  • Monitor stellar variability — spots and plages of a host star can alter the observed exoplanet's signal
  • Confirm new exoplanets — can help confirm newly discovered exoplanets

Beta Testers Needed

While Exoplanet Watch is scheduled to officially launch in Summer 2020, we are looking for Beta Testers who can start observing exoplanets and help test our in-house data reduction code, EXOTIC, that will fully reduce raw fits files or pre-reduced data and fit them with a model transit (Fig. 1).

If interested, please contact us here.

Citizen scientists will observe their own transiting exoplanets, reduce and analyze their own data, and then upload their results to the AAVSO Exoplanet Database to share their results with the professional exoplanet community. Exoplanet Watch will then analyze these data to help achieve the science goals above.

Exoplanet Watch Figure
(Fig. 1) An example transiting exoplanet observed with a 6-inch (15.24-cm) MicroObservatory telescope in Tucson, Arizona. Despite the target being relatively dim (V-mag = 11.44) and imprecise guiding on the target (the target drifted on the focal plane by ~100 pixels over the course of the observation), a single 6-inch telescope can achieve high observational precision (uncertainties on the mid-transit time of 3.44 min and transit depth of 0.0021, a 10.26σ detection).

Related Links

NASA's Universe of Learning materials are based upon work supported by NASA under award number NNX16AC65A to the Space Telescope Science Institute, working in partnership with Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Sonoma State University.


This project complies with the Paper Reduction Act via Office of Management and Budget Control Number 2700-0168.

Main Image: A park ranger at Dinosaur National Monument adjusts a telescope during a night sky program, with a star filled sky behind her.
Learn More | Image Credit: NPS