You can now help discover new worlds beyond our solar system from the comfort of your home, thanks to a new citizen science platform called Planet Patrol launched by NASA.
The Planet Patrol platform allows members of the public to collaborate with professional astronomers as they sort through a stockpile of star-studded images collected by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).
“Automated methods of processing TESS data sometimes fail to catch imposters that look like exoplanets,” said project leader Veselin Kostov, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.
“The human eye is extremely good at spotting such imposters, and we need citizen scientists to help us distinguish between the look-alikes and genuine planets.”
Volunteers will help determine which TESS snapshots include signals from potential planets and which ones show planet impersonators, NASA said on Wednesday.
TESS uses its four cameras to take full images of one patch of sky, called a sector, every 10 minutes for a month at a time.
This long stare allows TESS to see when planets pass in front of their stars, or transit, and dim their light.
Over the course of a year, TESS collects hundreds of thousands of snapshots, each containing thousands of possible planets — too many for scientists to examine without help.
On the new website, participants will help astronomers sift through TESS images of potential planets by answering a set of questions for each – like whether it contains multiple bright sources or if it resembles stray light rather than light from a star.
These questions help the researchers narrow down the list of possible planets for further follow-up study.
Citizen scientists can dive even deeper by learning more about the star in each image and by engaging with the Planet Patrol community, NASA said.