Dr. Jessie Christiansen Wants to Help You Discover the Next Exoplanet

It is difficult to I think just four decades ago we didn’t know if there were planets outside of our solar system. Scientists discovered the first exoplanet in 1992, and since then our understanding of the universe has irrevocably changed. Today, scientists estimate that there are as many planets around us as there are stars. The cosmos is littered with icy, gaseous, and rocky bodies that could one day reveal life on another world.

As of October 24, 2023, scientists have confirmed the existence of 5,535 planets outside our solar system. In a way, this discovery belongs to all of us because we are part of this universe. Hunting for exoplanets allows us all to be scientists.

It’s certainly a nice feeling, but when it comes to exoplanets, it’s actually true: citizen scientists work alongside those with PhDs every day to find the next exoplanet. One of the many people we have to thank is Dr. Jessie Christiansen, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology.

In 2017, Dr. Christiansen and Dr. Ian Crossfield were instrumental in ensuring that planet-hunting data from Extension of Kepler’s K2 mission was made public. This ensured that citizen scientists would become planet hunters.

As a project scientist on NASA Exoplanet Archives, she pursues this work with passion, sharing science with the world and working tirelessly to ensure public access to scientific data. “We are truly experiencing a cultural moment in science regarding access to data,” says Dr. Christiansen. “One of the things the Internet has done is make everyone understand that there is data that should be available and accessible. »

How NASA’s Exoplanet Archive Works

“This is how NASA keeps track of all the planets we have found around other stars,” says Dr. Christiansen. The Exoplanet Archive provides cataloging information and gives scientists (and anyone else interested) tools and data they can use to further their study of exoplanets. But it doesn’t happen alone. Dr. Christiansen is a member of a team of three scientists (along with two data analysts, a handful of software engineers, a systems administrator, and a technical writer) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (run by Caltech) who are identifying exoplanets confirmed. for inclusion in the NASA database.

So how do you insert a planet into the archives?

“You can’t just stand up at a conference and say, ‘We found an exoplanet!’ “, she jokes. For an exoplanet to be admitted, it must be included in an accepted, peer-reviewed article. Once this happens, a member of the team will find the paper (sometimes it’s emailed to them, but more often one of three scientists will use online databases to find it – they alternate month-long shifts).

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