Help Discover Exoplanets
Discovery of a transit around the star KIC10005758 spotted via planethunters.org
 Screenshot c
redit: 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.
 
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 is 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 features a very hypnotic screensaver that shows the analysis in progress. Maybe your computer will be the one that finds a signal from an alien civilization!

 
Screenshot of Disk Detective
 
Screenshot of Disk Detective in action. 
Credit: Marc Kuchner 
 
The Zooniverse project has some excellent citizen science programs of their own that you can join to help find other worlds. Planethunters.org uses data from the Kepler Mission and presents it to individuals to use their eyes to spot suspicious light curves from stars in Kepler'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. The project also uses data from the K2 mission as well, as it arrives from each field of view. 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. 
 
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. 
 
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) holds the authority to name exoplanets, and now they now want to start giving traditional names to some of the more famous of these strange new worlds. Currently, all exoplanets are named after their host star followed by a lower case letter, such as 51 Pegasi b. While this is useful for tracking these discoveries, the approach can make talking about some of these worlds a bit clumsy, as a name like HD 104985 b doesn't flow smoothly off the tongue in conversation. They have started a website allowing amateur clubs and other organizations to suggest names for these planets, and everyone in the world is encouraged to vote on their favorite names from all of these suggestions. You can find out more and vote on your favorite names here on the official Name ExoWorlds website. 
 
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!
 

Last Updated: September 2015
 
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