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News Article | May 11, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Scientists, community members, and educators from around the world will gather at the Citizen Science Association (CSA) "CitSci2017" Conference to share innovations and best practices for significant research collaborations between scientists and everyday citizens. CitSci2017 will be held in St. Paul, MN, May 17 - 20. Even as the discipline of citizen science is gaining high-profile attention, practitioners are rapidly advancing research collaborations in new directions and new disciplines. It takes dedication and ingenuity to ensure that citizen science results in relevant and useful science, as well as meaningful collaboration experiences. Leading educators, researchers, community organizations, and others will come together at this event to explore how citizen science is being used across disciplines, geographic boundaries, and scientific fields. They will discuss the latest research, projects, trends, and experiments in citizen science. "University of Minnesota researchers have long been finding innovative ways to harness the power of citizen science," said Karen Hanson, executive vice president and provost at the U of M, which partnered with CSA as a sponsor for the event. "I am delighted that this conference will provide our researchers an opportunity to join peers from across the nation to shape the promising field of citizen science, expanding its capabilities and driving forward our understanding of the world." The power of citizen science will be demonstrated during two Conference Keynotes. Dr. Marc Edwards, professor of environmental and water resources engineering at Virginia Tech, was instrumental in demonstrating that Flint, MI dangerously contaminated water. He and LeeAnne Walters, a Flint, MI citizen and mother of four, will discuss how they worked together to bring Flint's water crisis to national, and international, attention. A second keynote by Dr. Ellen Jorgensen of Genspace, a community biolab, will explore how open spaces for biotechnology research can promote both scientific literacy and new discoveries in molecular and synthetic biology. "Citizen science allows research to expand beyond traditional limitations, not only in terms of a project's scope but also in its connection to the public," said Lucy Fortson, Ph.D., associate head of physics and astronomy in the College of Science and Engineering and head of U of M's Zooniverse@UMN citizen science initiative. "This conference will help experts from across academic disciplines embrace the best citizen science practices, cultivate new ideas for research projects, and better engage their communities in conducting scientific research." This event also emphasizes local engagement. On Wednesday, technology enthusiasts are invited to help create new tools and platforms for citizen science in a hackathon event called Create Together Day hosted by the University of Minnesota. A Friday evening "Café Scientifique" event, A Night in the Cloud, will feature a screening of the new PBS series,The Crowd & The Cloud, with a chance to meet stars from the show. Before the screening, visitors can mingle with leaders from over 75 different projects to see the impact of participation and learn how to get involved. On Saturday, May 20, families can participate in the Science Museum of Minnesota's Citizen Science Festival. 25 leaders will share their current projects so the public can engage in fun and practical hands-on activities, such as monitoring monarchs, exploring the impacts of light pollution, mapping precipitation, and recording water quality. The Citizen Science Association unites expertise from educators, scientists, data managers, and others to power citizen science, which is the involvement of the public in scientific research - whether community-driven research or global investigations. Find out more at http://citizenscience. . See a sampling of research projects (or join one yourself) at https:/ .


News Article | May 16, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Calling all citizen scientists: The Australian National University wants you to join the search for supernovae. Brad Tucker from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics says it’s not possible for one team of researchers to check for exploding stars all the time, but if thousands of people are keeping watch, scientists are sure to get quicker and timelier data. “With the power of the people, we can check these images in minutes and get another telescope to follow up,” Tucker said in a news release. Time is of the essence when it comes to hunting for supernovae. University of Washington astrophysicist Melissa Graham, who studies Type Ia supernovae, says that a star can become more than a billion times brighter when it explodes. But that light fades fast. “After two weeks, they are only 30 percent as bright as they were at peak,” she said. Graham says some telescopes may not be as sensitive as others, and may only detect distant and faint supernovae for about a week after the explosion. To join ANU’s quest, visit Zooniverse.org and head to SkyMapper Sighting. The project has more than 450 volunteers so far. Volunteers can compare images taken over time by SkyMapper, an Australian 1.3-meter telescope surveying the southern sky, and report any changes. As a reward, the first person to correctly discover a supernova will get public recognition as a co-discoverer. Like a similar project called Supernova Hunters, SkyMapper Sighting relies on humans to identify supernovae because our eyes and brains are better at recognizing the proper patterns than computer programs are. Tucker and his colleagues hope to measure the acceleration of the universe’s growth by using the exploding stars as markers. He compares supernovae to light bulbs: If you have light bulbs lined up down a road, the one closest to you will look brighter than the one farthest away. “If you know how bright your bulb is, and how bright your bulb should be, you can calculate that difference, and that difference is a distance,” Tucker explained in a video.


News Article | April 8, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

After amateur astronomers identified four potential Planet Nine candidates, another crowdsourcing astronomy event led to the discovery of four previously unknown gigantic planets orbiting a nearby star. Australian scientists recruited volunteers to take part in ABC's Stargazing Live event and search for exoplanets among the enormous heap of data recorded by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. The information comprises observations of nearly 100,000 stars and could be consulted on the Zooniverse website. In just 48 hours, more than 7,000 participants to the Zooniverse project, called Exoplanet Explorers, managed to confirm more than 90 new planets in an arduous exercise of cataloging points of interest from the downloaded data. Amid all the new discoveries, four never-before-seen planets stood out as the most interesting find and will soon be the subject of a published paper, announces the website. "In the seven years I've been making Stargazing Live this is the most significant scientific discovery we've ever made. The results are astonishing," says astrophysicist Chris Lintott, a professor at Oxford University and the lead investigator from Zooniverse. The newly discovered planetary system was found 600 light-years away in the Aquarius constellation, and is made up of four exoplanets bigger than Earth but smaller than Uranus and Neptune - which classifies them as super-Earths. Their size is more than double compared with our home planet and they are currently found in orbit around a star 90 percent the mass of our sun. The star database revealed these planets are crammed together and sit much closer to their star than Mercury is to the sun, making them extremely hot worlds. Lintott points out that their high temperature, together with the fact they are presumably rocky, makes them unfit for human life. Fresh readings from the Kepler telescope showed the four planets orbit their star once every three to 13 days. "The closest of them whips around in just three-and-a-half days, so a year is only three-and-a-half days long," explains Lintott. Because the new solar system is so much different from our own, this important discovery could shed more light into how planets take shape. Only one or two other similar solar systems have ever been encountered, making the new data highly valuable to the scientific community. Because the four planets are packed in close proximity to one another, scientists are hoping to find more exoplanets in the star's vicinity. The Exoplanet Explorers project is the first time citizen scientists have been able to collaborate and classify fresh data from Kepler. The amateur astronomers combed through data on the brightness of distant stars, looking for blinking patterns that point to a planet in transit. When planets pass in front of stars as they follow their orbit, the star's emitted light grows paler as seen from Earth. These small changes in light can be difficult to spot and, according to Astronomy Magazine, are often best left to humans to discern, as opposed to computers. Such citizen science projects rely on sheer numbers to find real objects, meaning the more people identify a planet, the more chances are the planet is in fact real. The gathered observations were analyzed by scientific teams in multiple countries afterward. In no more than two days, the thousands of volunteers taking part in Exoplanet Explorers provided the amount of investigation "equivalent of a single astronomer working for a couple of years straight, no coffee breaks, no nipping to the loo," says Lintott. guar One of the amateur astronomers who found the four super-Earths is Andrew Grey, a 26-year-old Australian mechanic from Darwin, who will soon see his name on the published scientific paper pertaining to this discovery. "It's definitely my first scientific publication," said Grey, who told ABC he cataloged around 1,000 stars just in the first night. All the volunteers that contributed to the find will be credited in the study, notes Zooniverse. Other notable results of the project include the detection of a Jupiter-sized planet 700 light-years away that orbits its star every 24 days, as well as an Earth-sized planet (the smallest one discovered) that only needs 2.2 days to complete its orbit. The closest planet found was another super-Earth 390 light-years away that orbits its red dwarf star every seven days. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.newscientist.com

AFTER just two days, volunteer scientists taking part in a planet-hunting project have discovered four super-Earths orbiting a sun-like star. This brings the count of stars with four or more planets up to 74. Zooniverse’s Exoplanet Explorers project allows citizen scientists to scour data from the Kepler spacecraft via their home computers. When planets pass between their stars and us, they block some of the light, creating a dip in the star’s light curve. The volunteers identify light curves with a repeated dip each time a planet orbits. This new planetary system, 597 light years away in the constellation Aquarius, has dips from four different planets. The planets take only 3 to 13 Earth days to orbit their star. The smallest is just shy of twice Earth’s size, and the largest is 2.74 times as big. Since the project began on 4 April, citizen scientists have classified more than a million light curves and found 184 potential planets – 53 of them categorised as super-Earths. This article appeared in print under the headline “Planet finders”


News Article | April 4, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Remember how Australian scientists have been recruiting amateur astronomers in the search for the elusive ninth planet thought to orbit the solar system? Thanks to this campaign, the team is now eyeing four unknown objects that could be Planet Nine candidates. The planetary search, launched on BBC’s Stargazing Live broadcast, harnessed thousands of images captured by the Australian National University’s SkyMapper telescope in New South Wales. From there, around 60,000 eager stargazers worldwide had classified more than 4 million space objects as part of the search. Lead researcher Brad Tucker reported that the probe is now taking a specific direction. "We've detected minor planets Chiron and Comacina, which demonstrates the approach we're taking could find Planet Nine if it's there," Tucker said in a statement. "We've managed to rule out a planet about the size of Neptune being in about 90 percent of the southern sky out to a depth of about 350 times the distance the Earth is from the sun.” The citizen scientists have flagged four specific objects for follow-up in the search for Planet Nine, which calculations from January 2016 suggest may be orbiting the sun. The hypothesized planet is believed to be around 10 times Earth’s size and 800 times its distance from the sun. Astronomers will now use the telescope at Siding Spring as well as others around the world to investigate the four objects and see if they’re viable planetary candidates. Even if they don’t turn out to be likely prospects, the team celebrated achieving four years’ worth of scientific analysis in under three days. In fact, Tucker shared, a volunteer by the name of Toby Roberts made an impressive 12,000 classifications under this citizen-search program. The search for Planet Nine, which involved the citizen-science website Zooniverse.org, is now officially on. Take note, though, that the publicly open aspect of it has ended. ANU’s citizen search however continues via www.planet9search.org. In 2014, astronomers Scott Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo first proposed Planet Nine’s existence, broaching the discovery of space body 2012 VP113 and its shared orbital traits with the dwarf planet Sedna and other objects. According to the two, the similarities could be answered for by a massive, unseen “perturber” that lurks in the outer spans of the solar system and tugs on the said objects. This was bolstered by astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown in 2016, dubbing the perturber “Planet Nine” and thinking it could be sculpting more distant objects’ orbits. Scientists, according to Tucker, concluded from here that Planet Nine existed after they studied Pluto’s orbit. This orbit could have been affected by another planet’s gravity, the same way Neptune was actually predicted. At present, the solar system currently has eight recognized planets, after Pluto’s planetary status was stripped in 2006. Science, however, can be expected to keep looking – a group, for instance, put forward a new way to classify planets that could likely bring the planet count to more than 100. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 17, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Citizen scientists can join an online hunt for icy worlds, brown dwarfs and other yet-to-be-discovered objects beyond the orbit of Neptune, using a technique that’s not all that different from the method that led to Pluto’s discovery 87 years ago. “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” could even lead to the discovery of a super-Earth that may (or may not) be hidden on the solar system’s far frontier. The icy world known as Planet Nine or Planet X is only theoretical for now, but its existence would explain some of the puzzles surrounding the weird orbits of some far-out objects. The “Backyard Worlds” website offers up millions of mini-movies that incorporate infrared imagery from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The movies show the same patch of sky at different times, going back and forth like a flipbook. The project involves getting volunteers to watch the movies and look for telltale changes in the positions of points of light between one view and the other. Promising prospects are flagged for a follow-up look by professional astronomers. Back in 1930, Lowell Observatory astronomer Clyde Tombaugh used a contraption known as a blink comparator to flip between photographic plates. The desk-sized device helped him spot a dot that turned out to be the dwarf planet Pluto. Today, computers conduct similar analyses of images much more quickly to identify dwarf planets, asteroids and the failed stars known as brown dwarfs. But sometimes the software gets tripped up by image artifacts, and sometimes human vision can pick up on the patterns that computers miss. The organizers of “Backyard Worlds” are counting on that human factor. “There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored,” the project’s lead researcher, Marc Kuchner of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a news release. “Because there’s so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed.” Participants will win a share of the credit in any scientific discoveries that the project brings to light. “‘Backyard Worlds: Planet 9’ has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it’s exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist,” Berkeley team member Aaron Meisner said in today’s news release. The project is a collaboration involving NASA, the University of California at Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse. Are far-out planets not your thing? There’s more to choose from: Zooniverse has pioneered lots of other online citizen science projects over the years, including Galaxy Zoo, Ancient Lives and Fossil Finder.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Think you can find Planet 9? A new citizen-science project lets participants search for hidden solar system objects beyond the orbit of Neptune, where a possible ninth planet may lie. The Zooniverse website enlists the public's help in performing scientific research. For example, the Planet Hunters project looked for signs of alien planets transiting their parent stars. The Zooniverse projects now span a wide range of topics, from space to literature. The newest entry in the Zooniverse space-projects list is called Backyard Worlds: Find Planet 9. You can learn more about the project at Zooniverse's Backyard Worlds website here. For this project, participants are asked to look through data collected by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and help to separate real objects from system artifacts that can look like real objects (false positives). Citizen scientists will look for spots of light that move across the sky, signaling that those points of light are objects relatively close to Earth compared to the background stars. [The Evidence for 'Planet Nine' in Images (Gallery)] Like all of the Zooniverse projects, Backyard Worlds is asking citizen scientists to do a job that can't be done by a computer. "While it's possible to process the data to find moving points of light, we can't get rid of all the noise," according to the Zooniverse website. "Spiky images of stars, especially variable stars, are everywhere. Worse, are the optical ghosts, blurry blobs of light that have been scattered around inside WISE's instruments. These can hop back and forth, or even change color. These artifacts can easily fool our image processing software. "But with your powerful human eyes, you can help us recognize real objects of interest that move among these artifacts," the description reads. "You'll be able to tell what objects are real by the way they move around differently from the artifacts." The website compares the method used in Backyard Worlds to the approach taken by Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930. Tombaugh used photographic plates and a device called a blink comparator to look for moving objects in the night sky. Beyond the orbit of Neptune lies a belt of cold, icy objects called the Kuiper Belt; beyond that is a sphere of similar objects called the Oort Cloud. There are a few dwarf planets in addition to Pluto that lie in this region. Between Neptune and the nearest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri, there may be a planet about the size of Neptune, according to some recent predictions by a group of scientists at the California Institute of Technology. The research team also says the object is very likely visible with modern telescopes and could be discovered in the next year. "There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored," Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement from NASA. "Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light," Kuchner said. But WISE searches for infrared light, which can be emitted by objects that are too cool to emit visible light. (Even human bodies radiate infrared light.) The WISE mission scanned the entire sky in 2009 and 2010, uncovering distant galaxies, black holes and objects called brown dwarfs, which are larger than Jupiter but smaller than dwarf stars. There may be a hidden population of brown dwarfs in the region just outside the solar system, according to the Zooniverse website. The WISE spacecraft was also used to search for near-Earth asteroids. "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it's exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist," Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images, said in the statement. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration among NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse, according to the statement from NASA. Follow Calla Cofield @callacofield. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

NASA is inviting the public to help search for possible undiscovered worlds in the outer reaches of our solar system and in neighboring interstellar space. A new website, called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, lets everyone participate in the search by viewing brief movies made from images captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. The movies highlight objects that have gradually moved across the sky. "There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored," said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed." WISE scanned the entire sky between 2010 and 2011, producing the most comprehensive survey at mid-infrared wavelengths currently available. With the completion of its primary mission, WISE was shut down in 2011. It was then reactivated in 2013 and given a new mission assisting NASA's efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are asteroids and comets on orbits that bring them into the vicinity of Earth's orbit. The mission was renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE). The new website uses the data to search for unknown objects in and beyond our own solar system. In 2016, astronomers at Caltech in Pasadena, California, showed that several distant solar system objects possessed orbital features indicating they were affected by the gravity of an as-yet-undetected planet, which the researchers nicknamed "Planet Nine." If Planet Nine -- also known as Planet X -- exists and is as bright as some predictions, it could show up in WISE data. The search also may discover more distant objects like brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, in nearby interstellar space. "Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter," said team member Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds." Unlike more distant objects, those in or closer to the solar system appear to move across the sky at different rates. The best way to discover them is through a systematic search of moving objects in WISE images. While parts of this search can be done by computers, machines are often overwhelmed by image artifacts, especially in crowded parts of the sky. These include brightness spikes associated with star images and blurry blobs caused by light scattered inside WISE's instruments. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 relies on human eyes because we easily recognize the important moving objects while ignoring the artifacts. It's a 21st-century version of the technique astronomer Clyde Tombaugh used to find Pluto in 1930, a discovery made 87 years ago this week. On the website, people around the world can work their way through millions of "flipbooks," which are brief animations showing how small patches of the sky changed over several years. Moving objects flagged by participants will be prioritized by the science team for follow-up observations by professional astronomers. Participants will share credit for their discoveries in any scientific publications that result from the project. "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it's exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist," said team member Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration between NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages and operates WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The WISE mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, visit: For more information about NASA's WISE mission, visit:


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: phys.org

"There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored," said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed." WISE scanned the entire sky between 2010 and 2011, producing the most comprehensive survey at mid-infrared wavelengths currently available. With the completion of its primary mission, WISE was shut down in 2011. It was then reactivated in 2013 and given a new mission assisting NASA's efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are asteroids and comets on orbits that bring them into the vicinity of Earth's orbit. The mission was renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE). The new website uses the data to search for unknown objects in and beyond our own solar system. In 2016, astronomers at Caltech in Pasadena, California, showed that several distant solar system objects possessed orbital features indicating they were affected by the gravity of an as-yet-undetected planet, which the researchers nicknamed "Planet Nine." If Planet Nine—also known as Planet X—exists and is as bright as some predictions, it could show up in WISE data. The search also may discover more distant objects like brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, in nearby interstellar space. "Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter," said team member Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds." Unlike more distant objects, those in or closer to the solar system appear to move across the sky at different rates. The best way to discover them is through a systematic search of moving objects in WISE images. While parts of this search can be done by computers, machines are often overwhelmed by image artifacts, especially in crowded parts of the sky. These include brightness spikes associated with star images and blurry blobs caused by light scattered inside WISE's instruments. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 relies on human eyes because we easily recognize the important moving objects while ignoring the artifacts. It's a 21st-century version of the technique astronomer Clyde Tombaugh used to find Pluto in 1930, a discovery made 87 years ago this week. On the website, people around the world can work their way through millions of "flipbooks," which are brief animations showing how small patches of the sky changed over several years. Moving objects flagged by participants will be prioritized by the science team for follow-up observations by professional astronomers. Participants will share credit for their discoveries in any scientific publications that result from the project. "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it's exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist," said team member Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration between NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages and operates WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The WISE mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA. Explore further: NEOWISE mission spies one comet, maybe two


News Article | February 18, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

NASA needs help finding space objects, so the government agency teamed up with astronomy site Zooniverse for a new project that will recruit the public to help aid in the search for hidden planets and other solar system objects beyond Neptune. The NASA-funded project, named Backyard Worlds: Find Planet 9, launched on Zooniverse Wednesday. Participants in the project will search through data collected by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and separate actual celestial objects like brown dwarfs and low-mass stars from image artifacts that can sometimes appear to be real objects, referred to as false positive. WISE has pumped out hundreds of thousands of images but the computer system was unable to determine actual space object from image errors. “Spiky images of stars, especially variable stars, are everywhere. Worse, are the optical ghosts, blurry blobs of light that have been scattered around inside WISE's instruments. These can hop back and forth, or even change color. These artifacts can easily fool our image processing software,” Zooniverse said in a statement. “But with your powerful human eyes, you can help us recognize real objects of interest that move among these artifacts.” Citizen scientists participating in the project will investigate images beyond Neptune’s orbit for objects in a solar belt called the Kuiper Belt, which contains a few dwarf planets as well as Pluto. Researchers were also hoping someone will help them find another planet that could be in the sun’s orbit between Promixma Centauri, the closest star to the sun, and Neptune. “There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Promixma Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored,” Marc Kuchner, a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center astrophysicist said in a statement. “Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed." Wise was first launched in 2010 and scanned the sky until 2011. The system was reactivated in 2013 and has aided NASA’s efforts to find potentially hazardous near-Earth objects like asteroids and comets. The public project comes just days after NASA completed its crowdsource space poop challenge, which asked citizens to design an innovative waste management system that could be used by astronauts in space on missions lasting up to 144 hours or six days.

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