Budding astronomers, take the opportunity and try to discover a new planet. This is what telescope manufacturer Unistellar and the SETI Institute, a non-profit organization whose mission is“Explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe”– offer you.
As Space.com reports, this new campaign promises to offer every citizen the opportunity to take on the role of an amateur astronomer. Your mission, if you accept it: confirm or not the existence of candidate exoplanets identified by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (“Satellite de census des exoplanètes en transit” in French, or “TESS”). This operation will focus on the “exo-Jupiter” and on any foreign bodies with characteristics similar to the gas giant. This is something to appeal to astronomy enthusiasts.
But it’s not an exoplanet he wants. To ascertain this potential, TESS monitors the brightness of the stars. If one of these goes dark temporarily, it could be due to the passage of an exoplanet. This method, more commonly known as the “planetary transit method”, has revealed nearly 4,000 exoplanets to date.
However, other celestial bodies, such as low-mass stars, interfere with the identification of exoplanets. They too are in transit and can obscure the stars. So how do you tell them apart?
Follow-up observations are needed and this is where Stargazer Seeds comes in. Using ground-based telescopes, they will have to examine the targets provided by TESS and these data will allow to confirm or not the presence of an exoplanet.
A winning team
This isn’t the first time that mere mortals have come to the aid of a science team. Their capabilities had already been demonstrated as part of TOI 1812, a multinetary system discovered by TESS. The work of these twenty amateur astronomers had proved essential in determining the orbital period of one of the planets in TOI 1812. A real master stroke. According to Tom Esposito, research assistant at the SETI Institute and director of space sciences at Unistellar, “This initial success demonstrates that it is possible to bring science back into everyone’s hands. Coming together to discover planets trillions of miles away is just amazing.
As you will have understood, even the TESS satellite is not at the first attempt. In addition to having brilliantly contributed to the success of the preliminary missions, the fellow scientists would be able to identify 10,000 new exoplanets. On the occasion of Operation Unistellar Exoplanet, the star hunter will have to show the breadth of his potential.
If this new challenge boosts your dopamine, astronomers are waiting for you. Remember, though, to keep your feet on the ground.