Trending News: Urantia Book Commentary Blog

All Blog Posts |  See More Blogs

     |           |     

Hunting for Planets from the Comfort of Your Own Home

Hunting for Planets from the Comfort of Your Own Home

A cluster of stars appear in a small portion of Kepler's full field of view of the Milky Way

NASA / Ames / JPL-Caltech

In the two years since it went into space, the Kepler satellite has revolutionized the search for planets around other stars. Before Kepler went into space, about 500 so-called exoplanets had been found, one by painstaking one over the course of more than a decade. Since then, Kepler has added another 1,200, and that's just a fraction of the planets the probe will ultimately discover. (To be technical, the bodies Kepler finds are known as "candidate planets" that need confirmation, but no one doubts that the vast majority of them are real.)

One reason Kepler has been so wildly successful is that it stares at a huge number of stars — some 150,000 of them, around the clock — looking for tiny dips of light. That change in luminescence indicates that a planet is passing in front of the star. No human could possibly sort through all that data, so the Kepler team has created a kind of sifter software that looks for patterns hinting at orbiting planets. (See TIME's photoessay "The Labor of Space Exploration.")

But while computers are terrific at high-volume data-processing, nothing beats the human eye for pattern-recognition — which is why a project dreamed up by Yale University astronomer Debra Fischer, a veteran planet hunter and Kepler project scientist, has turned out to be so extraordinarily useful. Called, it lets ordinary folks with no scientific training at all help find planets the Kepler software has missed. It works so well that in just a few short months of operation, the more than 22,000 visitors to the website have found nearly 50 potential planets, which are being sent on to Kepler headquarters at the NASA Ames Research Center in California for followup.

You might think the planethunters team would require people who click on the site to undergo a fair amount of online training before allowing them to look at real data — but you'd be wrong. "We've got all sorts of online tutorials which explain the science," says Fischer. "But people don't have to look at them, and most don't."

Instead, you can cut straight to the real stuff : a simple explanation of what you're supposed to look for (a series of regular dips in a given star's "lightcurve," which is just a graph of its brightness over time) and how use an onscreen box to mark any suspicious spots. That's pretty much it — except that the last screen asks: "Logged in users get to see the best stars and get credit for their work. Would you like to login?" Think many folks say no?


Want to join the fun? Please click HERE to access the entire article...

Link to External Source Article

     |           |     
Atom   RSS