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Transiting Exoplanet Followup by Citizen Scientists with the Global Unistellar eVscope Network

Presentation #239.03 in the session “Exoplanets 3”.

Published onJan 11, 2021
Transiting Exoplanet Followup by Citizen Scientists with the Global Unistellar eVscope Network

Starting in March 2020, citizen scientists from around the world have been observing transiting exoplanets from backyards and rooftops as members of the Unistellar eVscope Network. With this program, we are mobilizing a burgeoning worldwide network of citizen astronomers to conduct observations with Unistellar eVscopes (4.5-inch “enhanced Vision telescopes”) under the aegis of professional astronomers at the SETI Institute. Ground-based followup facilities are in high demand as NASA’s TESS mission has discovered >2,000 new exoplanet candidates; many requiring additional observations to confirm their planetary nature and/or refine measurements of their orbits. This is particularly important for TESS objects of interest (TOIs) with long periods (>30 days) observed to transit only once or twice during the survey. Partnering with the Unistellar team, we have demonstrated that a single eVscope controlled by a citizen astronomer can detect a Jupiter-sized exoplanet transiting a Sun-like star and provide scientifically valuable information (e.g., time of mid-transit with uncertainties of less than a few minutes). Over the next few years, we will coordinate observations (e.g., with the TESS Follow-up Observation Program) to confirm not only Jupiter-sized exoplanets with short periods (already >200 TOIs meet eVscope detection criteria) but also rare Jupiter analogs with long periods (P>100 days) for which we can measure transit timing variations to indirectly detect non-transiting exoplanets as small as super-Earths and probe light curve variations indicative of circumplanetary disks and/or large moons. A key benefit of this ephemeris maintenance for long-period planets is conserving the valuable time of future space telescopes, which could save >50 days of observation time for a 100 planet survey with JWST (Zellem et al. 2020). We will present an overview of the eVscope, our observing strategy, citizen scientist community, exoplanet light curves captured by eVscope citizen astronomers and output by our Python-based pipeline, and model fits with associated parameter measurements like mid-transit time and the ratio of planet radius to stellar radius.

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