Published: Fri, February 17, 2017
Science | By Hubert Green

NASA Needs Your Help For A Once-In-A-Lifetime Discovery

NASA Needs Your Help For A Once-In-A-Lifetime Discovery

The endeavor, which is a collaboration between NASA, UC Berkeley and other institutions, allows everyday space enthusiasts to search for brown dwarfs and other objects beyond Neptune's orbit, including Planet 9.

WISE took the image covering a large area of the sky that helped astronomers detect faint stars that shift their position from time to time.

The new website uses the data to search for unknown objects in and beyond our own solar system. These emit very little light at visible wavelengths, but instead glow dimly with infrared - heat - radiation.

So, the best way to find them is through a systematic search of these moving objects. If Planet 9 - also known as Planet X - is there and is as bright as some predictions, it could show up in the WISE movies taken in 2010 and 2011.

A new website - Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 - lets people comb through footage captured by the agency's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission a few years ago.

Astronomers presented evidence of the existence of icy Planet 9 in January 2016, estimating that the planet takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years to complete a full rotation around the sun. He discovered dwarf planet Pluto 87 years ago this week, on February 18, 1930.

Brown dwarfs are celestial bodies that are too small to be considered stars and are also too big to be considered planets.

In addition to searching for a distant planet orbiting the sun, this new project will help astronomers identify the sun's nearest neighbors outside of our solar system.

The Backyard Worlds website makes all this easy.

It's essentially a worldwide game of Where's Waldo, if Waldo was a planet and might not actually exist. And so, astronomers decided they would bring in a little help: You.

The best estimates suggest that the planet is about 149 billion km (92.6 billion miles) from the Sun - or 75 times more distant than former planet Pluto. While that might sound unusual, given how unbelievably precise computers are, our plain ol' eyeballs can do a better job recognizing moving objects and ignoring the rest of the "noise" in these images. These include brightness spikes associated with star images and blurry blobs caused by light scattered inside WISE's instruments. If the citizen scientist has successfully identified a real brown dwarf or any genuine space objects, they will be credited with the discovery.

These are short animations that show 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.

Besides Arizona State University, Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration between NASA, University of California Berkeley, American Museum of Natural History in NY, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet. Participants will share credit for their discoveries in any scientific publications that results from the project.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages and operates WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

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