Armchair Astronomers Help NASA Search For Mysterious Planet 9

Posted February 18, 2017

Think you can find Planet 9? A determined planet hunter can look through dozens of photo sets per hour. The Zooniverse projects now span a wide range of topics, from space to literature.

"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 UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Aaron Meisner, who is helping to head up this latest citizen science project. You can learn more about the project at Zooniverse's Backyard Worlds website here. The mission was renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE).

Objects that are in or closer to the solar system appear to move across the sky at different rates, according to NASA.

NASA wants the public to hunt for the mysterious Planet Nine, which scientists postulate might be the ninth planet of the solar system. Participants will share credit for their discoveries in any scientific publications that results from the project. A space telescope has scanned the skies and may have already seen it, but finding it in the huge data set is proving hard.

It said on its website: "Spiky images of stars, especially variable stars, are everywhere".

The moving pictures are full of "blurry blobs of light", called "ghosts". By flipping back and forth between the photos, anything that changes position will show up. "These artifacts can easily fool our image processing software".

Human eyes, on the other hand, are better at recognizing important objects.

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"It's nearly like having six hands on a clock all moving at different rates, and when you happen to look up, they're all in exactly the same place", Brown said in a statement in January 2016.

The WISE project used in the Planet Nine project scanned the entire night sky between 2009 and 2010 making a number of discoveries including finding unusual galaxies, black holes, and near-Earth asteroids. Tombaugh used photographic plates and a device called a blink comparator to look for moving objects in the night sky. The evidence comes from studying the orbits of objects in the solar system's Kuiper Belt.

Doubtlessly among these lurk the elusive brown dwarfs and possibly Planet 9.

"Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light", explained Marc Kuchner of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

"People who join in the Backyard Worlds search bring a unique skill to the search: the human ability to recognise movement", adds Schneider.

"Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter", team member Jackie Faherty, said in a statement. In fact, due to recent discoveries and improvements in technology, scientists also believe that there is a hidden population of brown dwarfs throughout the Solar System. The WISE spacecraft was also used to search for near-Earth asteroids.

A new website called "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9" lets people comb through massive amounts of infrared footage.