Sep 8, 2021
We launched Agent Exoplanet in 2011 as an experiment. At the time LCO only had 2 telescopes (Faulkes Telescope North and Faulkes Telescope South) operating for science and they were both oversubscribed. Myself and the LCO education team at the time wanted to create an online app which allowed the audience to do science in a similar way to scientists, but without technical frustrations of using and installing unfamiliar analysis software.
We hit on the idea of making the analysis tool part of the webpage and using archive data of exoplanets (data which LCO scientists had already published). We made all aspects of the analysis online; from the measurement star brightnesses, rejection of poor quality data, fitting a light curve, and finally arriving at the size of the exoplanet from your measurements.
In the last 10 years nearly 6,000 people have tried Agent Exoplanet making over 1 million measurements of the exoplanets we provided. Now it is time for us to retire Agent Exoplanet for the following reasons.
It was an experiment for us, learning about creating and supporting online tools. Within a few months we realised that the way we had written the code (in Python and available on GitHub) meant that as more measurements were added, so the system got slower, until it was barely useable. We put measures in place to fix this but they were a bit of a hack and any time I had to fix a bug in the code, I found it confusing. This is entirely down to our naivety about server load and DevOps.
There are a lot of bad quality measurements because users have not been particularly accurate in their analysis. This produces final lightcurves which are almost meaningless. Again we put measures in to help this, but it requires constant curation.
We use the Django web framework for this project and it has served us very well. However to make this app more modern would require a complete overhaul of the code and change of approach. Where there is significant load on a server a more modern approach is to using a RESTful web service, or even a websocket, which can wait for a long running process to complete.
This is the main reason we have decided to close Agent Exoplanet. Our long time collaborators, MicroObservatory, has released DIY Planet Search which does everything Agent Exoplanet does and more. We recommend you use that excellent resource. It uses LCO and MicroObservatory exoplanet data and they borrowed some of our user interface design choice, so it should feel a little familiar.
If you were/are an Agent Exoplanet user, thank you for your support. Please complete our very short survey and tell us what you think of Agent Exoplanet.
Agent Exoplanet will be retired on 1 January 2022