If you’ve ever wanted to search for distant worlds, your time has come. The team behind a planet-hunting telescope array called the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) is looking for help with the large volume of data the instrument has produced. The NGTS scans large areas of the sky with a collection of small, robotic telescopes to detect dips in stars’ light that are caused by a planet passing between the stars and Earth.
The team now has a lot of data, which it has sifted through using computers. But computers have difficulty distinguishing a likely planet from various sources of noise, so the researchers are asking the public to double-check the computers and provide a final call on what a signal is.
One of the most successful means of searching for exoplanets has been the transit method, in which a telescope repeatedly observes the amount of light originating from a star. If a planet wanders in front of that star, the amount of light will dip slightly. These dips have a very stereotypical shape if you plot them over time in what’s called a light curve, with a fairly steep drop as the planet swings in front of the star, followed by a long, flat reduction.