Think you’ve found a great transit candidate? Can’t wait for us researchers to look into it? Here are a few things that you can do yourself to check whether your candidate could be a real planet. These are the first steps that we would do ourselves, so it’s a great help to us if you have the time or inclination to make a start yourself – and a great opportunity to learn a few cool things in the process. Note you can do as many or as few of the steps on this list as you like – it’s completely up to you!
1. Is it a TOI (Tess Object of Interest)?
TOI is the name used by the TESS team for good planet candidates that they have checked carefully and consider worthy of follow-up observations.
In order to check whether the candidate is a TOI you need to find the TIC number (you can view it by clicking the “i” icon below the subject image in Talk) and check if it appears on the TESS data alerts page: https://archive.stsci.edu/prepds/tess-data-alerts. TIC ID is the first column in the big table. If the candidate is on the TOI list, well done – you have found a candidate that the TESS team have identified as a planet candidate.
If the candidate you found is a TOI you’re doing really well. However, it’s already being looked into by the TESS team, so we won’t duplicate their efforts – we want to focus on objects that they haven’t already found. Before you leave the talk page for that subject though, please tell everyone else what you’ve found – you can say “This is Tess Object of Interest (TOI) XXX” where XXX is the number that appears in the 2nd column on the data alerts table.
2. Is it a TCE (Threshold Crossing Event)?
All of the TESS data are passed through the TESS transit search pipeline, which automatically flags any lightcurves that might contain a planet. TCEs are the raw flagged candidates of this pipeline (prior to any vetting done by the TESS team).
In order to check whether a candidate is a TCE you can download a CSV file, for each sector, where they are all listed:
Alternatively you can check if a given candidate is a TCE using EXOMAST (https://exo.mast.stsci.edu/). On EXOMAST, simply enter “TIC ” followed by the TIC number, and click ‘search’. If the candidate you are looking into is a TCE, you will be taken to a page containing some information about the host star and the potential planetary system.
If the candidate is not a TCE, you will see a notification below the search bar stating “No planet found”.
If you find a TCE, once again, you’re doing really well – it means that you’re as good at finding (some) transits as the pipeline that professional astronomers developed over a number of years!
Please flag such an object as a #TCE on the talk page (if possible including a link to the EXOMAST page for that TCE).
3. It’s a TCE but not TOI?
A candidate that is a TCE but not a TOI is an object that the TESS pipeline flagged, but the TESS team decided wasn’t a good enough planet candidate to be promoted to TOI status. Finding these is really great, not least because – in some cases – we might take a different view to the TESS team and consider them to be likely planet candidates. So if you find a TCE that isn’t a TOI, please let us know by including “@researchers” in your comment on talk. We will get notified automatically and – time permitting – we will look at it more closely.
When vetting the TCEs, the TESS team perform a long list of checks. These tests are designed to weed out instrumental false positive (the signal isn’t real) and astrophysical false positives (the signal is real but isn’t caused by a planet, but something else). The results of these tests are saved in a DV (data validation) report, which they have helpfully made publicly available – so we can use them to understand why the TCE didn’t become a TOI. This is a really quick way to look through candidates and to avoid repeating the hard work that the TESS team have already done. The DV reports are long and complex, and currently a little tricky to access for TCEs that aren’t TOIs, so we are not including instructions on downloading and using DV reports in this post (though we hope to do so at a later date).
Importantly, there are already a few TCE (and not TOI) candidates found by planethunters.org volunteers for which we have examined the DV reports and come to the conclusion that the candidates are promising. This mainly happens because the TESS pipeline requires at least two transits for a detection, so it only searches for transits that repeat with periods up to the duration of a TESS sector (~28 days). If there is only one real transit, it might be missed altogether (this is where you volunteers come in!) or it might be wrongly paired up with an artefact or noise feature somewhere else in the light curve. In that case, the diagnostics in the DV report, which are based on all the transits combined, might be misleading.
4. Create a cutout or movie of the TESS data
There is a fun tool at https://mast.stsci.edu/tesscut/ which allows you to extract a time-series of cutout images around a given target. You can use these to look at what is in the vicinity of the target, or even to make a movie! If the transit is deep enough, you might even see the star “blink” (this can be a fun thing to try out on variable stars or eclipsing binaries too).
Sometimes, what appears to look like a transit is actually due to some weird artefacts, affectionately dubbed “fireflies” or “fireworks” by the TESS team, that sweep through the field of view. These are probably due to scattered light from bright stars or moving objects inside the telescope and camera optics. If you notice that a promising candidate is actually due to such an artefact, please let everyone know on talk!
5. Want to play with the TESS data products yourself?
If you’re really keen and want to examine the TESS data in more detail, you can easily get your hands on them. Go to https://archive.stsci.edu/, enter “TIC” followed by the TIC number of the subject in the search box, and hit “search“. This should bring up a list of datasets stored by MAST (Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes), including two that will have “TESS” in the “Project” column. The lightcurve is the one that lists the TIC number (rather than “TESS FFI”) under “Target name”.
You can download the data to your computer by clicking on the little floppy disk icon in the corresponding row. You can find more information on the format of these datasets in the TESS Science Data Products Description Document:
What to do with the data when you have it is a long story, far too long for this post… but again, we hope to provide a separate, dedicated article with some examples at a later date.