Martin Fowler Portrait

Martin Fowler

NASA Citizen Scientist


Liverpool University

Imperial College of Science & Technology

Martin is a retired scientist working independently from his home in Winchester, a city in Hampshire, England.

What motivated you to volunteer as a NASA citizen scientist? How did you learn about NASA citizen science?

As a retired professional scientist, I wanted to continue to contribute to scientific research. Having worked for some time with data from the MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network operated by the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), I was approached by the Exoplanet Watch team soon after its inception in 2019 to see how my experience with MicroObservatory could contribute to the project. Specifically, I had developed a workflow to convert a series of MicroObservatory images into a light curve showing the variation in the brightness of a star over time as a large Hot Jupiter exoplanet transited in front of it. By modeling the observed transit, estimates could be derived of the planet’s orbital parameters, known in astronomy as the “ephemeris.” I have been involved in Exoplanet Watch ever since, beta testing software and contributing over 150 transit observations to the project.

What do you do when you’re not doing science with NASA? Tell us about your job and your hobbies.

My other research activities include the application of satellite remote sensing to archaeology, palaeoentomology (i.e., the study of fossil insects), and the ecology of bats and hedgehogs around my local village. Away from my research “work,” I enjoy cycling and walking in the countryside, photographing landscapes and wildlife along the way.

What have you learned about the process of science from your time on NASA citizen science projects?

Citizen scientists can make valuable contributions to science projects!

Which peer-reviewed research publications have you contributed to through your citizen science work? What was your role in the research and writing process?

The recent Exoplanet Watch–related work and papers I’ve been involved with include:

I’ve also written and contributed to numerous peer-reviewed papers covering supernovae, exoplanets, and the application of satellite remote sensing to archaeology. Further details can be found in my profile on ResearchGate.

We’re aware that not everyone has equal access to speedy computers and internet signals. Was this a problem for you? And if it was how did you overcome it?

No, thankfully I have access to both.

What are your favorite NASA citizen science projects to work on, and why?

Exoplanet Watch. I enjoy making a positive contribution to the maintenance of exoplanet ephemerides and, potentially, the discovery of new exoplanets based on transit timing variations.

What have you discovered or learned as a NASA citizen scientist?

Following a career in biomedical and government research, I have translated my scientific training, experience, and analytical skills into the field of astronomy. Having discovered the MicroObservatory robotic telescopes over 10 years ago, I initially learned how to extract measurements of the brightness of stars from the telescope images and to use the data in the follow-up of nearby exploding stars known as supernovae, which I have reported in several scientific papers. As a NASA citizen scientist involved in Exoplanet Watch, I have learned a lot about the astrophysics of exoplanets and the reduction and analysis of transit observations. I have also broadened my knowledge of stars through the serendipitous observation and analysis of variable stars that are covered in MicroObservatory images of stars targeted for exoplanet transit observations, which has opened up new avenues of research for me.

What advice would you give to others who might want to volunteer with NASA citizen science?

Go for it! Exoplanet Watch is a very inclusive project, and you will be able to contribute even if you do not have access to your own telescope. The software required to participate in the project, along with data from over 10 years of MicroObservatory observations of transiting exoplanets, are made freely available for you to use.

Who have you met during your NASA citizen science work who inspires you?

Dr. Rob Zellem (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) is an inspirational leader of the Exoplanet Watch project. He is very enthusiastic about the project and is ever helpful to new (and old) members in providing advice and helping in their contributions to the project.

Likewise, Frank Sienkiewicz (CfA), the engineer responsible for the maintenance and operation of the MicroObservatory telescopes, has helped me from the start with my understanding of their use. Together with Mary Dussault (CfA), he has encouraged my astronomical research as a citizen scientist. Frank works tirelessly to keep the telescopes working and providing data for both educational projects and Exoplanet Watch, yet is always willing to provide help and advice when needed.

How much time do you spend on NASA citizen science projects?

Around five to six hours per week.

Visit the complete collection of NASA citizen science projects and start contributing today!

Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.