Crowdsourcing the sky: Huge star database made available to the public

16 February, 2017, 00:57 | Author: Archie Newman

The scientists themselves have already begun looking through the observations and found over 100 likely planet candidates. Not all of the stars were subjected to the same level of scrutiny by HIRES, meaning that some stellar bodies will have only several days' worth of data, whereas others have decades.

"This opens up possibilities for anyone who wants to do this kind of work, whether you're an academic or someone in the general public who's excited about exoplanets", said Jennifer Burt, a Torres Postdoctoral Fellow in MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in the press release. In a paper that will soon be published in the Astronomical Journal, Burt and her colleagues describe the discovery of a 3.8 Earth-mass planet orbiting our fourth closest star.

This helps specialists find out more the composition of the star, its speed when moving towards other celestial object and radial velocity.

The compilation has nearly 61,000 individual measurements that have been made of over 1,600 stars.The team, which has now made the data public, is offering unprecedented access to one of the best exoplanet searches in the world.

A team of astronomers led by the Carnegie Institution for Science made public on Monday an huge catalog of observations on nearby stars.

The newly available observations were taken by the High Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES), an instrument mounted on the Keck Observatory's 10-meter telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii. "However, even before HIRES was installed, our team worked out a technique for making HIRES an effective exoplanet hunter".

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But for now, if you want to help with the exoplanet hunt just download the data, some open-source software developed by the research team and go through a tutorial that teaches you how to use it.

For two decades, these scientists have pointed HIRES at more than 1,600 "neighborhood" stars, all within a relatively close 100 parsecs, or 325 light years, from Earth.

"There seems to be no shortage of exoplanets", Burt said. This technique, deemed one of the most successful in finding and confirming planetary presence, exploits the fact that a planet's gravity also affects the star it is orbiting.

The team is hoping their decision will lead to a flurry of new science, as astronomers around the globe combine the HIRES data with their own existing observations, or mount new observing campaigns to follow up on potential signals.

Periodically, the team will supplement the dataset with further observations made by HIRES. These changes are determined by slight modifications which take place in the velocity of a star. "Nowadays, with access to public analysis software like Systemic, it's easy to load the data in and start playing with it".

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