UNITE: Unistellar Network Investigating TESS Exoplanets
A NASA Citizen Science project
Use your telescope to confirm the existence of newly discovered worlds
Join the worldwide Unistellar Network of citizen scientists and professional astronomers to discover and characterize some of the most interesting exoplanets in our galaxy!
Giant exoplanets resembling Jupiter that have been recently discovered by TESS, NASA’s current exoplanet hunting mission, need your help. Astronomers don’t have enough information to fully understand the orbits of these planets, which take months or years to circle their star once. This is usually because TESS and other telescopes haven’t had many chances to catch the temporary dimming of the exoplanet’s star as the planet passes, or transits, in front it.
This is where you and UNITE come in! Only a network of people around the world, cooperating to observe the same target, will be able to catch more transits by these exoplanets. This can be because these planets take many hours to transit their star (much longer than a single night on Earth) or because the dates of future transits cannot yet be accurately predicted. With your observations, scientists can understand the orbits and conditions of these foreign worlds like never before.
Explore below to learn about exoplanets or get started tonight!
Don’t have a Unistellar telescope? Here’s how you can still be part of the UNITE mission.
Featured Exoplanet Transit for October 2023:
The TESS lightcurves of TOI 4600 from Mireles et al. 2023. The green triangles show the transits of the smaller planet closer in, while the pink triangles show the transits of TOI-4600c.
Observation dates: 16 October – 17 October
We need your help confirming the period of this gas giant now – another chance won’t come along until 2025!
TOI-4600c is a planet that orbits its star at a similar distance as the Earth orbits the Sun. However, this planet is much larger than the Earth and actually a gas giant! It has a smaller (but still a gas giant) sibling planet closer in towards its Sun as well, which has been observed to transit quite a few times.
However, NASA’s planet hunting satellite TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) only observed two transits of TOI-4600c in 2019 and again in 2022. Just recently in August of this year though, scientists confirmed its existence with additional observations! But those scientists still need help nailing down the period of this planet, or how long it takes it to orbit its star. Current estimates place the period at 482.82 days . If that estimate is correct, this is the last chance to observe the transit until February of 2025. So make sure you catch the transit this time around!
Join this mission and learn more at the Pick Your Target page!
Featured Results: TOI 1812.01
In the first of several NASA-sponsored exoplanet hunts in 2022, Citizen Astronomers searched for a transit of TOI 1812.01. This planet, the outermost of three gaseous planets around a relatively cool star, is Saturn-sized with its radius nine times the size of Earth’s. Despite having two transits observed by TESS, its period (the length of its year) was poorly known: previous estimates ranged from 71 – 157 days. To nail down the orbit, 20 Citizen Astronomers tracked TOI 1812.01 for three nights over the course of two months. Only on the third night, August 27, did they spot the exoplanet and confirm that it takes 112 days to orbit its star.
Meet the Team
Meet the SETI Institute scientists behind the Unistellar Network’s NASA-Sponsored Exoplanet Programs:
Paul Dalba, PhD – Exoplanets Lead, Observation Planning, Data Analysis
Tom Esposito, PhD – UNITE Principal Investigator, Exoplanets Co-Lead, Pipeline Development
Lauren Sgro, PhD – Data Analysis, Communications
Franck Marchis, PhD – Outreach, Communications