Date:17 February 2017
To find Planet 9 comb through the backlog of data – you just might discover something amazing.
By Avery Thompson
Many scientists believe that somewhere past Pluto sits an unidentified planet, called Planet 9. Indirect evidence suggests it’s out there, but so far astronomers have been unable to find it themselves, which is why NASA is now asking you to help them. Using a new NASA-funded website, you can hunt through telescope data for Planet 9 and other unknown objects lurking out there.
The website, Backyard Worlds, takes data collected in 2010 and 2011 by the WISE telescope. During those two years, WISE completed a full survey of the night sky in infrared, and that data is now available on Backyard Worlds to comb over.
Finding planets using this data is simple (in theory). All you have to do is spot any small dots that are moving against the static background. WISE takes several photos of the same tiny region a few days apart, and if you quickly flip between them you can pick out anything moving quickly. Such spots might be undiscovered planets or brown dwarfs, which are small failed stars.
The Backyard Worlds website makes all this easy. It shows you examples of what to look for and automatically finds a set of photos and flips between them for you. It provides tools for marking any suspected planets, and when you’re done, it gives you a new set of photos to look through. A determined planet hunter can look through dozens of photo sets per hour.
Here’s a few tips to make it even easier: one of the buttons lets you invert the colors of the image, which reduces the background noise and makes objects of interest stand out. Most of those objects will all move together due to noise, but any planets or brown dwarfs will follow a different path. Lastly, be sure to create an account so you get credit for any discoveries you make.
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.