More than 29,000 people around the world are involved in NASA’s Planet Hunters TESS project. Available through the Zooniverse website, the project enlists citizen scientists to search for new exoplanets by scanning data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). After diligently searching the data, two citizen scientists were rewarded for their efforts with the discovery of two new gaseous planets.
The two planets orbit a sun-like star 352 light-years from Earth and after the findings were confirmed by NASA, the citizen scientists’ discovery was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
TESS launched in 2018 and has facilitated the discovery of 100 exoplanets so far, with many more flagged for confirmation. The program relies on dedicated volunteers to scan satellite graphs of the brightness of stars. If volunteers see a dip in a star’s light curve, they can flag it as a potential planet orbiting between the star and TESS’ cameras.
One of the citizen scientists responsible for the discovery of these specific planets, named ‘planet b’ and ‘planet c,’ was Cesar Rubio. Rubio became interested in TESS because his seven-year-old son loves to talk about stars and planets. Rubio told CNN, “I feel that I’m contributing, even if it’s only like a small part. Especially scientific research, it’s satisfying for me.”