KEY POINTS

  • Scientists from NASA recently held an AMA event
  • NASA's Citizen Science program allows the public to work with the agency
  • Humans are better than AI when it comes to detecting characteristics of an exoplanet

NASA recently explained how participants of its Citizen Science program play a huge role in the discovery of new exoplanets. According to the agency, humans are still far better than artificial intelligence (AI) when it comes to finding new worlds in different star systems.

Scientists from NASA recently held an Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) event on Reddit. The focus of the forum was to encourage people to become one of the agency’s citizen scientists.

NASA’s Citizen Science program consists of projects that members of the public can join. Through these collaborations, the citizen scientists can help make new discoveries with NASA.  

During the AMA session, NASA listed down some of the discoveries citizen scientists made through the program. Some of them include identifying new meteorites and comets, finding the oldest planet-forming disk and discovering a total of 62 Main Belt asteroids.

Aside from these, the Citizen Science program also has projects that are focused on finding exoplanets, which are alien worlds that are located in a different star system. Usually, NASA relies on the data gathered by its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and Kepler spacecraft to find potential exoplanets.

The citizen scientists then comb through the collected data to identify potential planets.

A question submitted by a Reddit user asked if it would be better to use AI than humans when it comes to finding exoplanets. After all, AI would be able to go through a lot of data in just a short amount of time.

However, according to Nora Eisner, a member of the TESS team, humans are still better at finding exoplanets than AI since computer systems often fail to spot certain telltale signs of another world.

“The vast majority of planets in the TESS and Kepler/K2 data found using computer algorithms, including planets that we would struggle to find with the human eye alone,” she explained. “However, the machines struggle to find certain types of planets, in particular those that only show one transit event in the lightcurve or those around very variable stars.”

As noted by the scientist, using lightcurves to identify exoplanets can provide valuable information regarding its overall evolution and formation.

“By visually inspecting lightcurves we can find planets that the machines miss and help complete the picture of what exoplanets look like, how they form, and how they evolve,” she stated.

Exoplanet 55 Cancri e An artist's concept of super-Earth exoplanet Cancri e, which likely has an atmosphere that is thicker than Earth's. One face of the planet is always facing its parent star, while another side is always facing away. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech