BBC Stargazing Live
NASA’s Kepler spacecraft monitors ~150,000 stars for transit signatures taking a measurement every 30 minutes.The Kepler light curves, the time series of brightness measurements, are complex. Many exhibit short-‐lived variations in brightness. Such variability is difficult to characterize. Using computer algorithms, the Kepler team has detected over 2,000 potential planet candidates and 33 confirmed planetary systems. Despite the impressive success of the Kepler Team’s automated analysis, we think that computers may not recognize transit signals dominated by the natural variability of the star.
Computers are only good at finding what they’ve been told to look for. The human eye can easily identify deviant points and transits that may be missed by sophisticated computer algorithms. The human brain has the uncanny ability to recognize patterns and immediately pick out what is strange or unique, far beyond what we can teach machines to do. With Planet Hunters we asking you to visually screen the Kepler light curves for transits, individually reviewing 30-day segments of a star’s light curve for tell-tale transit dips signaling the possible presence of a exoplanet. Over 73,000 volunteers have made nearly 6 million classifications in the project’s first year. We’ve already netted 4 strong planet candidates (read more about those discoveries here and here) that were missed in initial reviews in other searches of the Kepler data.
But we need your help. The Kepler team has just released the next 3 quarters of Kepler data, nearly 270 days worth of additional observations to the public. Chris issued the challenge today; help us search the data for new planet transit signals over the next three days of Stargazing. Mark where you think there might be dips in star light due to passing planets. We’ll review all your classifications and look for new planet candidates and on the last night we’ll preset what we find . Help us make our goal of 250,000 classifications in 48 hours.
These Kepler observations have never before been seen by anyone on the Planet Hunters website. Most of the light curves will be flat devoid of transit signals but yet,it’s just possible that you might be the first to know that a star somewhere out there in the Milky Way has a companion, just as our Sun does. Fancy giving it a try?
~Meg, Chris and the Planet Hunters Team
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