Archive by Author | Nora Eisner

Light curve of the week


Some stars are quiet,

Some stars pulsate,

Some stars are single,

Some have a mate.

This is a pulsating star in a binary system. Thank you to the citizen scientists who brought this fun system to our attention and suggested it as a lightcurve of the week.

Light curve of the week: tidally distorted EB

This week we have an EB where the two stars get so close to one another that their gravitational pull distorts their shapes, changing it from a sphere to a rugby-ball type shape. The increase in surface area from this results in an increase in observed flux after the primary eclipse. If you look carefully you can also see a small secondary eclipse!


Light curve of the week


The light curve of TIC 394177355 was already flagged by the Kepler team (KOI-3156) when it was observed back in 2015. It shows a multi-eclipsing quintuple system of pulsating stars with orbital periods of 94.2, 8.65, 1.52 and 1.43 days. TESS saw this target 5 years later in Sector 15, and observed it during a triple eclipse. Check out the paper by Hełminiak et al. (2017) to find out more about this very interesting and rare system.


Light curve of the week

This week we have a beautiful Delta Scuti variable that shows both primary and secondary eclipses caused by a second star. The beat-like pattern that we can see in the light curve is due to the star pulsating at two very similar, but slightly different, frequencies. Have you seen any more of these on Planet Hunters TESS?


Light curve of the week

This is a light curve of an eclipsing binary with some strange out-of-transit-variability. The transit depths suggest that there is one large and hot star and one small and cold star in this system.


Searching for Disks

In addition to planets, there are many other interesting and unexplained systems to be found within the TESS data. Professor Matthew Kenworthy from the University of Leiden, for example, is searching for circumplanetary disks of dust and rings by looking for the shadows they cast as they pass between us and their parent stars.

Searching for Disks

by Professor Matthew Kenworthy

We’re looking for stars that have single eclipses that last from a few days to a few weeks but that have no other apparent eclipses outside of this period of time.

During the eclipse, which can be anything from a 5% dip to a 90% dip, the brightness of the star can change in a matter of hours – as shown in the image below. Essentially we are looking for any kind of saw tooth pattern in the light curve.

What we think we are seeing is a large disk of dust around an unseen planet or star, and that this disk has rings in it that block out light from the host star. The sawtooth light curve is what you get when the edges of the rings cross in front of the star.

If you spot a light curve that has these characteristics it would be great if you could tag it on talk with #disk. Any stars you can identify will help tremendously in finding and understanding these curious objects!


Light curve of the week

This beautiful dwarf nova has so far been observed by TESS in all of the northern hemisphere observational sectors released to date (sectors 14 to 18).


Dwarf novae are stellar binaries where one companion is a main sequence star and the other a white dwarf. In these systems material is transferred from the main sequence star to the white dwarf, forming an accretion disk and resulting in quasi-periodic outbursts, as seen in the lightcurve above. See for more details on these fun systems!


TIC 219107776 as seen on Planet Hunters TESS in Sector 18.

Exploring the impact of Planet Hunters: key findings

Dr. Annaleise Depper (Evaluation Officer, Public Engagement with Research) at the University of Oxford shares the results and findings from an evaluation of Planet Hunters conducted in 2019.

Read the full report here:

Exploring the Impact of Planet Hunters TESS

by Dr. Annaleise Depper



To date, over 15,000 citizen scientist volunteers from over 98 different countries worldwide have contributed their time to classify millions of light curves through Planet Hunters TESS.

Still, questions remain as to why people engage in project like Planet Hunters; what, if anything, do people learn; what factors limit people’s participation; and what can researchers at the University of Oxford learn from people’s experiences in order to enhance the project?

In 2019, I carried out an evaluation of Planet Hunters TESS, which allowed me to explore these questions by engaging with the volunteers through an online survey. A total of 577 volunteers completed this survey, thereby sharing their views and experiences. While the findings are not necessarily representative of all of the volunteers, the results have provided important information about the value and barriers to taking part in Planet Hunters, and the ways in which the project could be enhanced.

Thank you to all the 577 citizen scientist volunteers who took the time to complete this survey, and shared their open and honest reflections, thoughts and recommendations.

Here’s a brief summary of what we found out:

Planet Hunters has resulted the following outcomes and impacts on volunteers:

  • 74% learned about Astronomy
  • 66% enjoyed learning about Astronomy through Planet Hunters
  • 21% felt inspired to learn more about Astronomy beyond the project
  • 19% experienced a feeling of pride and satisfaction in being a citizen scientist
  • 8% experienced positive benefits to their individual wellbeing

Hearing from the volunteers:

 “I learned about the actual research medium taking place and how it really works instead of viewing a graphic or reading an article.”

“I am making 3 beginners telescopes and planning to start a small Astronomy club to inspire more people in Astronomy. Planet Hunters opened my mind in many ways””

“I love what I’ve done and knowing that I am participating in a project that search for new planets makes me feel excited”

“My student really got into the project. They thought it was really neat that they would get an acknowledgement if they helped find a planet, and were excited by the fact it was really data. I asked them to do a minimum of 20 classifications and no student did less than twice that (and some completed as many as 150 classifications)”


Benefits and challenges of Planet Hunters

A key strength of Planet Hunters is its ability to bring together groups of people, including those without a background in science, to become citizen scientists and actively engaged in the exoplanet search.

At the same time, 49% of Planet Hunters volunteers highlighted a reason that limited their participation in the project, including:

  • Personal circumstances
  • Issues with the platform, interface and accessibility
  • Limited understanding
  • Tedious, fatigue and repetition
  • Lack of individual feedback and recognition
  • Classification anxieties
  • Commitment to other Zooniverse projects

How can Planet Hunters become more inclusive of its growing, diverse community?

There is still work to be done to ensure that Planet Hunters remains rewarding, motivating and inclusive of all volunteers. Around 50% of volunteers provided a recommendation that could support the development of Planet Hunters; including:

  • Providing additional information and support to volunteers
  • Improving accessibility and interface usability
  • Providing more feedback

Next steps for the PHT team

The Planet Hunters TESS team are currently thinking of ways to implement some of the recommended changes – here’s some of the areas they are exploring:

  • Translating the project into multiple languages
  • Launching a mobile app
  • Offering more training and support e.g. video tutorials
  • A ‘meet the researcher’ or ‘meet the volunteer’ blog
  • Improving and supporting use of Planet Hunters in the classroom for educational purposes
  • More regular updates e.g. to the results page; Twitter

Read the full evaluation report here:

You can contact Annaleise via or Twitter @AnnaleiseD

Light curve of the week

TESS looks at thousands of stars every night providing us with some of the most beautiful, strange and mysterious light curves. Here is my favourite one of the week: TIC 300446218.


This specific light curve was extracted from the TESS full frame images (FFIs) and it shows multiple dips of different depths. There appear to be two sets of alternating signals which have been highlighted in different colours. The signals highlighted with the red solid lines and the yellow dashed lines are equally spaces but have alternating depths (the yellow signal is deeper) and therefore look like they are caused by an eclipsing binary. Similarly, the signal highlighted by the blue dotted lines and the purple dot-dash lines are also periodic but have different depths. We are, therefore, likely seeing two sets of eclipsing binaries, which, if they are physically close together and tidally locked to one another, could be in a quadruple system!

TIC 300446218 is located close to the ecliptic pole, in the ‘continuous viewing zone’, and was continuously observed by TESS throughout the first year of operation. While the image above only shows a small segment of the light curve, you can see the entire coverage in the figure below.


The full light curve shows that all of the dips disappear after a couple of months and come back again a little while later. This could potentially be due to changes in brightness of a nearby variable star – when the nearby star is bright the dips in TIC 300446218 are diluted and disappear, whereas when the nearby star is faint the dips stand out for us to see.  Alternatively, the plane in which the stars are orbiting around one another could be changing inclination by very very small amounts over time, meaning that the stars sometimes cross our line of sight and block a small amount of light, and sometimes don’t. More investigation is needed in order to untangle and understand this fun light curve.

Do you have a favourite light curve of the week?

Planet Hunters TESS Mobile: swipe right for planets

It has been an extremely exciting year for Planter Hunters TESS and we have identified multiple potential new planetary systems. Due to the success of the project, we have decided to expand by bringing PHT to your mobile device!


To date, all of the data that we have looked at have been from the targeted bright, nearby stars that TESS observes every 2-minutes. However, in addition to these targeted stars TESS monitors the brightness of millions of other stars, both bright and faint, recording their brightness every 30-minutes. These stars are found in what are known as TESS’s Full Frame Images (or FFIs), and the time has come for us to start looking for planets there.


Example TESS Full Frame Images. Photo credit NASA/MIT

Due to the huge number of stars contained within these Full Frame Images, we decided to first analyse the data using a computer algorithm. This code, which was developed by Chelsea Huang at MIT pre-selects the best lightcurves for us to look at in more detail.

The automated search has two parts. First, it runs searched for periodic signals using an algorithm called Box Least Squares (BLS). This algorithm ‘folds’ the lightcurve at various trial orbital periods. If a trial period corresponds to the orbital period of an existing planet in the system the dips cause by a transiting object will overlap, suggesting the existence of a possible planet. The second part of the search uses machine learning, to look at the lightcurves that pass the BLS search, in order to assess whether the periodic signal could be the result of a transiting planet.

For many lightcurves the code is extremely good at identifying the good planet candidates without any human vetting. However, there are also a huge number of marginal cases where the machines are unsure as to whether there is a planetary signal present or not, and it is these cases that we need your help on.


Examples of GOOD planet candidate as seen in on the app

The images that we show on the site have been folded at the orbital periods determined by the BLS search so that multiple dips should overlap with one another. We are showing the odd and the even (alternating) dips in red and white. This is because any difference in odd and even transit depth and shape is a tell-tale sign of the dips being the result of two stars of different sizes orbiting around one another in an eclipsing binary. Please discard these lightcurves on the app by swiping left or pressing the ‘discard’ button on your screen.

In this project we are also want to pay close attention to the shape of the dips. Transits due to eclipsing binaries tend to be very V-shaped, whereas transits due to planets are more U-shaped or have a flat bottom so look out for these!


Examples of BAD candidates. Many of these are Eclipsing Binaries or dips caused by systematics

See what you can find by downloading the Zooniverse app onto your mobile and looking for the Planet Hunters TESS project.

We hope you enjoy this new version of Planet Hunters TESS and can’t wait to see what kind of systems we can find!