Planet Patrollers make 144 planets imposters

Transiting planets block starlight. But the other objects too! Credit: NASA

When you’re trying to catch a planet, you better look twice! NASA’s Planet Patrol Citizen Science Project volunteers have finished verifying their first batch of 999 exoplanet candidates from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. The results, published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, show that 144 of these proposed planets are bogus.

Objects like eclipsing binary stars can mimic the appearance of a planet. But they didn’t fool this team of citizen scientists.

“We expect to find five astrophysical false positives for each true candidate planet in the Full Frame TESS images,” said Luca Cacciapuoti, the paper’s lead author. “The work of citizen scientists is essential in spotting these imposters.” The impostor planets tended to be in the lower mass range—suggesting that we may not really understand the mass distribution of planets.

Dr. Veselin Kostov first started the Planet Patrol project by creating a website at exoplanetpatrol.org. This website asks members of the public to examine TESS footage for noise and lag that could be signs of something having gone wrong. But the participants in this project began to dig deeper and learned to use the same tools as professional astronomers to examine candidate exoplanets, writing their own codes to compare candidates and track their progress. A second new article, led by Kostov, describes the project in more detail.

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