19Feb2017

Public Join Search For Planet Nine, Nearby Brown Dwarfs

 

Planet

Join the search for new worlds in the outer reaches of our solar system and in nearby interstellar space at Backyard Worlds: Planet 9.

A NASA-funded website called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 lets everyone participate in the search for the hypothetical Planet Nine and ‘failed’ nearby stars by viewing brief movies made from images captured by NASA.

“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 Dr. Aaron Meisner, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) images.

The new website relies on human eyes because we easily recognize the important moving objects while ignoring the artifacts. It’s a modern version of the technique astronomer Clyde Tombaugh used to find Pluto in 1930.

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. “There are just over 4 light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored,” said Dr. Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.”

“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.”

The new website uses WISE data to search for Planet Nine, a hypothesized massive ice giant that may orbit in the outer Solar System, and more distant objects like brown dwarfs, balls of gas too big to be called planets but too small to be called stars. If Planet Nine exists and is as bright as some predictions, it could show up in the data.

Artist’s impression of Planet Nine. Image credit: Tom Ruen / ESO.

Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter,” explained Dr. Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History. “By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds.” Source: SciNews

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