Armchair Exoplanet Hunting with Kepler

Armchair Exoplanet Hunting with Kepler

We have recently described how to find your own exoplanet, and there have been blog posts on amateur astronomer's and Kepler's exoplanet finds. You can join the fun of finding an exoplanet and all you need is an armchair and a web browser connected to the internet. You can visit Planethunters.org and start a free account. You then have access to the data from the Kepler space observatory (for more info on Kepler read this). Your job is to try and identify any features that might represent a distant exoplanet orbiting a star. You will receive credit on any planets found if you have an account.

Kepler 22b artwork

An artists impression of Kepler 22b. Credit: NASA


The process is pretty easy. You are shown about 30 days worth of data from a star. Each point on the graph is a reading of the brightness of the star. You are asked if the star is variable or quiet. This takes a bit of practice and the 5 min instruction video is well worth your time. After this the website asks if the star has any planet orbiting features.  This may sound a bit technical but what you are looking for is a couple of dots in a line  below the rest. Here is an example taken from planet hunters.org tutorial page.

planethunters.org transit

The planet transits can be seen as the lines of dots below the rest.

The deeper the dots are below the main bulk of the data the bigger the planet is likely to be. This is because a big planet is more likely to block more light from the star than a small planet. Finding an Earth sized planet will be pretty difficult to do as the lowest dots caused by the small planet transiting the star will be pretty close to the main starlight data. I have spent some time on the site and most of the stars I have seen don't have anything as convincing as the example above. This is a screen grab from planet hunters.org that is about the best I have seen to date.

planethunters.org my best find


As you can see the line of low points I have marked is probably more likely to just be the variation in the star's brightness as the areas I marked are at the low point in the variation pattern. Oh, well I'll keep looking as each star may have an unidentified exoplanet that I could help to discover. 

If you want to help find exoplanets then please visit Planethunters.org and get started.


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