You Can Help NASA Observe Other Worlds!

Click here for a sharable article about Exoplanet Watch.

NASA's Universe of Learning's Exoplanet Watch is a citizen science project, currently geared toward amateur astronomers and astronomy students at colleges and universities, to observe transiting exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — with small telescopes. A transiting exoplanet is a planet outside of our solar system that periodically passes in front of its host star, causing the star to appear to slightly dim (typically by ~1%). Observing exoplanet transits is important, as they provide direct measurement of a planet's radius and composition. Ground-based observations, particularly with small telescopes (<1 meter) constrain the exoplanet’s orbital period (how quickly a planet orbits around its host star) which in turn provides 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., the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope)
  • 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

Citizen scientists will observe transiting exoplanets, reduce and analyze their own data, and then upload their results to the American Association of Variable Star Observers (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 and then immediately publish them on our website.

An example lightcurve of the transiting exoplanet HAT-P-32b
(Fig. 1) An example lightcurve of the transiting hot Jupiter exoplanet HAT-P-32b as observed with a 6-inch (15.24-cm) MicroObservatory telescope in Tucson, Arizona. A transiting exoplanet periodically passes in front of its host star, causing the star to dim (and effectively casting a tiny shadow on the Earth!). The amount of light blocked by the planet tells us directly the size of the planet relative to its host star. Despite this 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 precision transit observations (Zellem et al. 2020).

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, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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

Exoplanet News