Although there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence, we are yet to discover the crucial clue to prove the existence of a large ninth planet in the Solar System. And now researchers want the help of citizen scientists to discover if Planet 9 is real or not.
The project, called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, lets people look at four-frame “flipbook” videos made out of images captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) observatory. If an object appears to be moving, it is probably very close and could be a nearby brown dwarf or the mysterious Planet 9.
“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,” UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Aaron Meisner said in a statement.
Meisner is a a physicist who specializes in analyzing WISE images and has been working on automating the search, as WISE covers the whole sky six times over. A single researcher can’t take on such a task and even machines have their limitations.
“Automated searches don’t work well in some regions of the sky, like the plane of the Milky Way galaxy, because there are too many stars, which confuses the search algorithm,” he continued.
He was able to automatically look at 5 percent of the WISE catalog, but he wasn’t able to find any new objects. Citizen scientists don’t have the limitation of computer programs and they are naturally more apt to see the tiny differences that might hint at an undiscovered object.
Meisner was approached by NASA astronomer Marc Kuchner to open the survey to the public, and the project was made available on the citizen science platform Zooniverse, which has hundreds of thousands of volunteers.
Each website user will be asked to look at four photograms from a region of the sky and then tasked with highlighting any object that might appear to be moving.
WISE video that highlights interesting objects. NASA/UC Berkeley/Zooniverse