You Can Help Discover Exoplanets!
Discovery of a transit around the star KIC10005758 spotted via planethunters.org
 
Hunting for exoplanets is not just for astronomers with years of training and specialized equipment-you too can join the hunt for worlds around other stars! There are many citizen science projects you can join to help find more planets and assist in the search for life around other stars. Amateur astronomers also help confirm exoplanets from their own backyard telescopes, and have even made a few discoveries of their own.

close up of a persons face staring out an abstract space scene

Want to help NASA find exoplanets - with your own equipment? You can use your telescope to observe transit events and share your data as part of the Exoplanet Watch citizen science project! No telescope of your own, or using it for other projects? Not a problem! You can also use remote robotic telescopes to observe and submit data. Dig into the program's details and ready your telescopes for some transit runs by checking out the official Exoplanet Watch website.

 
Screenshot of Disk Detective
 
Screenshot of Disk Detective in action. 
Credit: Marc Kuchner 
 
The Zooniverse project hosts some excellent citizen science programs that you can join to help find other worlds. Planethunters TESS started with data from the Kepler Mission, and now uses data from TESS. Participants use their eyes to spot suspicious light curves from stars in TESS's field of view. If you spot a suspicious blip in the light curve, mark it as a possible planet and the possible detection is followed up by astronomers to confirm or deny the detection.

Not all blips are exoplanets! A companion project, Planet Patrol, checks and rechecks posisble detections to ensure that they are actually picking up signs of an orbiting planet, instead of a temporary glitch, sunspots, dust, or some other unseen, non-planetary cause for dips in their light curves. The project releases data to participants when available, so sign up for updates at the official Planet Patrol website.

 Disc Detective is another project that allows citizen scientists to peek at discs of gas around other stars that may hold hidden planets, and protoplanets in the process of forming. 

There are even more NASA-affiliated Exoplanet projects you can join- there is just so much data that scientists need as much help as they can get! Find out what Exoplanet-themed citizen science projects are available from NASA on the Exoplanet Exploration group's Citizen Science page.
 
Image of a prototype Project PANOPTES unti
A prototype of  a PANOPTES unit.
Image credit: Project PANOPTES
 
Want to get behind a telescope and gather data to spot worlds on your own? You can even do that! Project PANOPTES provides a standard planet-hunting platform available to everyone. For a fairly low cost (for an advanced observatory, that is!) you can assemble your own planet finding observatory. Olivier Guyon  even joined the Night Sky Network for a special telecon two years ago. Check it out here.

Want to use your own equipment to hunt for planets? You can do that too! Bruce Gary has written an excellent and free guide for amateurs wanting to start hunting and confirming exoplanets, and it is available for free, in PDF format, from his website: http://brucegary.net/book_EOA/EOA.pdf.
There is also an excellent article on Astronomy Online about detecting exoplanets with amateur equipment. 
 
 
Screenshot demonstrating the graphics of SETI@Home
Screenshot featuring  one of the graphics options for the Seti@Home client
credit: SETI@home
 
One of the oldest citizen science programs on the web was also the first to invite people to search for life around other stars: SETI@home. After all, we now know that there are vast numbers of worlds in our galaxy-could some of them support life, perhaps even an intelligent, technological civilization? Data collected by SETI from radio telescopes is split up and sent to computers around the world, the results analyzed with their spare computing power, and sent back up to SETI once done. The software also featured a very hypnotic screensaver that shows the analysis in progress. While the project is currently in "hibernation" and no longer distributing work to users, that may change in the future. If so, maybe your computer will be the one that finds a signal from an alien civilization!
 
Citizen scientists like yourself can help to make many discoveries in the field of astronomy, as they have in many other scientific fields. Sign up to help find other worlds today!
 

Originally Posted: September 2015
Last Update: June 2021
 
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