The Planet Hunters Analysis Database

The Planet Hunters citizen science project has seen volunteers searching for exoplanets since 2011. The latest version of the project uses data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a mission we archive here at MAST. Every month, new data from TESS is released at MAST and the Zooniverse team are ingesting the ~20,000 TESS light curves and displaying them on the Planet Hunters site for the public to help analyze. Results from initial tests with the Zooniverse community and TESS data are promising.

One of the most exciting aspects of Planet Hunters is the rapid pace of discovery: Every day, thousands of volunteers from the Zooniverse community analyze the latest data, identifying interesting candidates and discussing them in the Talk discussion forums. Popular projects such as this regularly run out of data as the community rapidly analyzes new data posted to the site. While the Zooniverse community can be very fast at the initial analysis/classification of data, there’s often a significant delay between the initial identification of a possible transit by volunteers and any confirmation of a new exoplanet candidate. Additionally, crediting those individuals who help identify a planetary candidate, and tracking the provenance of any discovery was often hard for astronomers and generally had to wait until a paper was published in the astronomical literature.

With Planet Hunters TESS, the team here at MAST has been working with the Zooniverse team to address some of these challenges and try something a little new…

What we’re doing

Together with Planet Hunters TESS, we’re launching an experimental new service at MAST, the Planet Hunters Analysis Database (PHAD). PHAD receives data in real time from the Planet Hunters project as members of the Zooniverse community analyze the data from TESS and as potential new exoplanet candidates are discovered.

Planet Hunters interface

Transits marked on the Planet Hunters interface

Planet Hunters + PHAD works as follows:

  1. At Planet Hunters, each time a volunteer marks potential transits (see figure above), a program called Caesar listens in, and updates our calculation of the best consensus results. Caesar takes the multiple analyses for each light curve shown and attempts to generate a consensus result in real time. This classifier is the work of Nora Eisner, a PhD student at the University of Oxford.
  2. As Caesar generates results, these are posted to an API at Planet Hunters Analysis Database (PHAD). PHAD collects these analyses and displays them in a searchable user interface making it possible for members of the Zooniverse community to see which analyses their classifications have contributed to. For more information on what these values mean, take a look at the PHAD about page.
  3. Once per month, a complete set of the raw classification data from the Planet Hunters interface will be provided, thereby giving an opportunity for the wider research community to reanalyze the raw classification data from Planet Hunters.

Planet Hunters + real time analyses archived @ MAST

This combination of real time analysis of the Planet Hunters classifications, and live posting of these results back to the archive is something completely new for both teams. While MAST hosts static community-contributed data used in the scientific literature in the form of High Level Science Products, the PHAD is something different. PHAD is a rapidly changing table of the Planet Hunter’s consensus analyses, the data should be considered pretty ‘raw’, and is obviously not based on any refereed publications. By providing rapid reporting the Zooniverse volunteers have the opportunity to see how they are contributing, and everyone can immediately find the most promising transit events discovered by the Planet Hunters project and give credit appropriately.

Brought to you by Arfon Smith & Nora Eisner