Citizen-Scientists Help NASA Find Distant Planets
September 25, 2011 1 Comment
Or candidates for distant planets, anyway.
A few days ago I posted about Foldit, a way of online crowdsourcing biological discovery; here is another great example of crowdsourcing and citizen-science, for astronomy: Planet Hunters. NASA launched a spacecraft called Kepler that’s measuring the brightness of stars in distant space and relaying it back; the Kepler team is sifting through that data with computers looking for indications of planets. Through Planet Hunters, anyone can take a look at Kepler’s data and try to find signs of a planet.
And now – great success! – a paper is being published that will include two potential planets identified by Planet Hunters. From Yale Daily Bulletin:
Since the online citizen science project Planet Hunters launched last December, 40,000 web users from around the world have been helping professional astronomers analyze the light from 150,000 stars in the hopes of discovering Earth-like planets orbiting around them…
Now astronomers at Yale University have announced the discovery of the first two potential exoplanets discovered by Planet Hunters users in a new study to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
… The Planet Hunters team — a collaboration between astronomers at Yale, the University of Oxford and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago — used the Keck Observatory in Hawaii to analyze the host stars. “I think there’s a 95 percent chance or greater that these are bona fide planets,” Fischer said…
“These three candidates might have gone undetected without Planet Hunters and its citizen scientists,” said Meg Schwamb, a Yale researcher and Planet Hunters co-founder. “Obviously Planet Hunters doesn’t replace the analysis being done by the Kepler team. But it has proven itself to be a valuable tool in the search for other worlds.”
Users found the two candidates in the first month of Planet Hunters operations using data the Kepler mission made publicly available. The Planet Hunters team sent the top 10 candidates found by the citizen scientists to the Kepler team, who analyzed the data and determined that two of the 10 met their criteria for being classified as planet candidates. The two candidates were flagged as potential planets by several dozen different Planet Hunters users, as the same data are analyzed by more than one user…
Planet Hunters users are now sifting through the next 90 days of Kepler data in the hopes of adding to the count. “This is what we found after just a preliminary glance through the first round of Kepler data,” Fischer said. “There’s no doubt that, with each new round of data, there will be more discoveries to come.”
So if you want to contribute to science and be a discoverer of all things awesome without all that “education” hassle, you have at least two ways to do it: Foldit and Planet Hunters. I’m sure there are other similar projects out there, and I’ll be sure to report on them if I find them.