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Published May 2020 | Accepted Version + Published
Journal Article Open

Utilizing Small Telescopes Operated by Citizen Scientists for Transiting Exoplanet Follow-up


Due to the efforts by numerous ground-based surveys and NASA's Kepler and Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of transiting exoplanets ideal for atmospheric characterization via spectroscopy with large platforms such as James Webb Space Telescope and ARIEL. However their next predicted mid-transit time could become so increasingly uncertain over time that significant overhead would be required to ensure the detection of the entire transit. As a result, follow-up observations to characterize these exoplanetary atmospheres would require less-efficient use of an observatory's time—which is an issue for large platforms where minimizing observing overheads is a necessity. Here we demonstrate the power of citizen scientists operating smaller observatories (≤1 m) to keep ephemerides "fresh," defined here as when the 1σ uncertainty in the mid-transit time is less than half the transit duration. We advocate for the creation of a community-wide effort to perform ephemeris maintenance on transiting exoplanets by citizen scientists. Such observations can be conducted with even a 6 inch telescope, which has the potential to save up to ~10,000 days for a 1000-planet survey. Based on a preliminary analysis of 14 transits from a single 6 inch MicroObservatory telescope, we empirically estimate the ability of small telescopes to benefit the community. Observations with a small-telescope network operated by citizen scientists are capable of resolving stellar blends to within 5''/pixel, can follow-up long period transits in short-baseline TESS fields, monitor epoch-to-epoch stellar variability at a precision 0.67% ± 0.12% for a 11.3 V-mag star, and search for new planets or constrain the masses of known planets with transit timing variations greater than two minutes.

Additional Information

© 2020. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Received 2019 September 26; accepted 2020 March 11; published 2020 April 8. Part of the research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Copyright 2020. All rights reserved. We thank the JPL Exoplanet Science Initiative for partial support of this work. This material is based upon work supported by NASA under cooperative agreement award number NNX16AC65A. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This research has made use of the NASA Exoplanet Archive, which is operated by the California Institute of Technology, under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under the Exoplanet Exploration Program. This research has made use of the SIMBAD database, operated at CDS, Strasbourg, France. R.T.Z. would like to thank Padi Boyd, Knicole Colon, Sam Halverson, Stella Kafka, Tiffany Kataria, David Latham, and Kevin Stevenson for their helpful discussions. D. Dragomir acknowledges support provided by NASA through Hubble Fellowship grant HST-HF2-51372.001-A awarded by the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., for NASA, under contract NAS5-26555.

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August 19, 2023
October 20, 2023