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Meet a Citizen Scientist: Alton Spencer


Alton Spencer
(Image Courtesy of Alton Spencer)

Danbury, Connecticut

What do you study?

What I mainly like to do is download light curves from different archives as part of the K2 campaigns 13 or 14, split it into multiple parts, and do a computer analysis that runs through the data to see if there are any potential signals, before I go through the signals one by one to see if any look like a transiting planet. I just finished 14 today. I found several multi-planet systems, but only one good potentially habitable candidate.

Spencer - planets
Artist impression of exoplanets. (Image courtesy of Alton Spencer.)

I’ve been interested in astronomy nearly my entire life. Back in 2016, when my interest in astronomy took a focus on exoplanets, I observed a transit of the exoplanet HAT-P-22b.

I feel like the story of exoplanets is, as an astronomical career, what I’m going to be pursuing. I’m trying to use this as a stepping-stone toward that career, to help me better understand how a lot of this planet finding works.

Why do you do citizen science?

I don’t feel like there’s an age restriction when it comes to making great discoveries. Citizen science is a way for people in middle or high school, like me, to actually make contributions to science despite not being in college or having science careers yet.

What’s your day job?

Sophomore in high school.

Favorite contribution you’ve made

One of my favorites is pretty recent: an eclipsing binary system with two red dwarfs. Usually, I hate eclipsing binaries. This is different. In my campaign search last month, I noticed one extra dip – completely different from any other eclipses in the binary. It looks like it’s likely from a circumbinary planet (similar to Kepler 16b, which orbits two stars). It looks like there’s another dip from a super Earth (larger than Earth, smaller than Neptune) also orbiting in this system. However, I’m not entirely sure if that is an actual transit. I have more confidence in the first one, which appears to be a super Neptune.

Spencer - planet
Artist impression of an exoplanet. (Image courtesy of Alton Spencer.)