NASA’s Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 Needs Your Help to Spot Rogue Worlds Between Neptune and Proxima Centauri

By spotting moving objects in brief movies made from images captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE)

NASA's looking for a few citizen scientists to help search for unidentified planets beyond Neptune and out to Alpha Centauri way. Credits : NASA/JPL/Goddard Studios
NASA’s looking for a few citizen scientists to help search for unidentified planets beyond Neptune and out to Alpha Centauri way. Credits: NASA/JPL/Goddard Studios

Space news (Astrophysics: The search for nearby planets; Backyard Worlds: Planet 9) – the outer reaches of our solar system beyond Neptune and neighboring interstellar space –

NASA’s Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 invites you to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by helping astronomers search for undiscovered worlds on the outer fringes of our solar system and wandering in nearby interstellar space. Just by viewing brief movies created by using images taken by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and then picking out moving objects in the frames. You can help find interesting things for scientists to study further and you might even get your name on any scientific papers written on the subject. Watch this NASA video on the new website

“There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored,” said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Because there’s so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed.”

Marc Kuchner, for Astronomy Magazine
Credits: NASA/Goddard Studios/Marc Kuchner, for Astronomy Magazine

WISE is just one of many repurposed, retasked spacecraft working beyond the years’ designers and engineers first proposed for their space mission. After being told to stand down in 2011, our intrepid space explorer was reassigned a new mission by NASA in 2013, to identify hazardous near-Earth asteroids and comets. They also gave the old space horse a new name, the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE).

A previously cataloged brown dwarf named WISE 0855−0714 shows up as a moving orange dot (upper left) in this loop of WISE images spanning five years. By viewing movies like this, anyone can help discover more of these objects. Credits: NASA/WISE
A previously cataloged brown dwarf named WISE 0855−0714 shows up as a moving orange dot (upper left) in this loop of WISE images spanning five years. By viewing movies like this, anyone can help discover more of these objects.
Credits: NASA/WISE

People deciding to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time through this invitation search for unknown objects beyond Neptune using data provided by NEOWISE. You’ll be looking for asteroids and comets possibly on a collision course with Earth. You could also discover the fabled Planet X or a brown dwarf star too faint to be seen in nearby interstellar space, like the brown dwarf star called WISE 0855-0714.

“Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter,” said team member Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. “By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds.”

Jackie Faherty, Senior Scientist/Senior Education Manager at American Museum of Natural History Credits: Linked
Jackie Faherty, Senior Scientist/Senior Education Manager at American Museum of Natural History Credits: Linked

You might be wondering what your tired eyes can do to help NASA scientists? Objects closer to the solar system move across the sky at different rates, unlike ones further away. The most efficient way to search for them is by systematically looking for moving objects in NEOWISE data. Computers are normally used for this job, but human eyes are often better at picking out important moving objects among all the other things on the screen. 

Watch short animations

On Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, millions of people from around the world watch millions of short animations showing how a small patch of the sky has changed over many years. Any important moving objects noticed can be flagged by astronomers for further study. The discoverer could even be given credit in scientific papers written on the subject. This is your chance to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time and get noticed.

“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 team member Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images.

Learn about NASA’s engineers testing a prototype asteroid capture system ARM astronauts could use to capture a boulder from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid in the near future.

Read about NASA’s successor to the Curiosity rover, the Mars 2020 rover, and its updated plans.

Become a NASA Disk Detective and help classify young planetary systems.

Join Backyard Worlds: Planet 9.

Learn more about NASA’s contributions to the human journey to the beginning of space and time here.

Discover NEOWISE.

Learn more about the discoveries and work of WISE.

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NASA”s ‘Disk Detective’ Invites You to Help Astronomers Classify Embryonic Planetary Systems

To determine which young planetary systems to study closer with the Hubble Space Telescope and in a few years time its successor the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) 

Herbig-Haro 30 is the prototype of a gas-rich young stellar object disk. The dark disk spans 40 billion miles in this image, cutting the bright nebula in two and blocking the central star from direct view. Volunteers can help astronomers find more disks like this through DiskDetective.org. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/C. Burrows (STScI)
Herbig-Haro 30 is the prototype of a gas-rich young stellar object disk. The dark disk spans 40 billion miles in this image, cutting the bright nebula in two and blocking the central star from direct view. Volunteers can help astronomers find more disks like this through DiskDetective.org.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/C. Burrows (STScI)

Space news (NASA crowdsourcing projects: Disk Detective.org; help discover new planetary nurseries) – scanning over 745 million stellar objects across the cosmos looking for new planet nurseries to study – 

The large disk of gas surrounding Fomalhaut is clearly visible in this image. It is not centred on Fomalhaut quite as predicted, hinting that the gravity of another body – perhaps a planet – is pulling it out of shape.
Debris disks, such as this one around the bright star Fomalhaut, tend to be older than 5 million years, possess little or no gas, and contain belts of rocky or icy debris that resemble the asteroid and Kuiper belts found in our own solar system. The radial streaks are scattered starlight. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/UC Berkeley/Goddard/LLNL/JPL
NASA invites all peoples to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by helping astronomers discover new planetary systems by joining their largest crowd-sourcing project to date Disk Detective. Volunteers view brief animations of stellar objects called flip books and then classify each object based on simple criteria. This simple classification system helps astronomers determine which objects, from around 500,000, they need to have a closer look at to see if it might be a planetary nursery.  

“Through Disk Detective, volunteers will help the astronomical community discover new planetary nurseries that will become future targets for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope,” said James Garvin, the chief scientist for NASA Goddard’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate. 

Projected to launch in 2018, JWST is an infrared telescope that will observe the early universe, between one million and a few billion years in age. Credit: NASA
Projected to launch in 2018, JWST is an infrared telescope that will observe the early universe, between one million and a few billion years in age.
Credit: NASA

The objects volunteers help classify were originally narrowed down from around 345 million initially identified by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) during a survey of the entire sky between 2010 and 2011. Astronomers used computers to search through WISE data to find the objects volunteers classify through this citizen science initiative to identify more planetary nurseries for astronomers to study. 

“Planets form and grow within disks of gas, dust and icy grains that surround young stars, but many details about the process still elude us,” said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “We need more examples of planet-forming habitats to better understand how planets grow and mature.”

DiskDetective with P.I. Marc Kuchner, and James Garvin, Goddard Chief Scientist, NASA/GSFC
DiskDetective with P.I. Marc Kuchner, and James Garvin, Goddard Chief Scientist, NASA/GSFC Marc Kuchner, the principal investigator for DiskDetective.org (left) and James Garvin, the chief scientist for NASA Goddard’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate, discuss the crowdsourcing project in front of the hyperwall at Goddard’s Sciece Visualization Lab. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/David Friedlander

Join today!

NASA needs your help. You can check out DiskDetective.org to get a better idea of the requirements of taking part in this citizen science initiative. The interface used is relatively user-friendly, but the instructions were excellent, so you shouldn’t have any trouble. Just follow the instructions provided. This is your chance to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

“Disk Detective’s simple and engaging interface allows volunteers from all over the world to participate in cutting-edge astronomy research that wouldn’t even be possible without their efforts,” said Laura Whyte, director of citizen science at Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Ill., a founding partner of the Zooniverse collaboration. 

Read about NASA’s recent selection of five American aerospace firms to study Mars orbiter concepts.

Learn more about NASA’s selection of seven American university teams to design and engineer space habitat prototypes.

Read and learn more about NASA’s selection of eight teams of ambitious young university students to design space habitats for colonizers heading to Mars.

Join NASA’s voyage through the cosmos here

Check out DiskDetective.org

Discover the Hubble Space Telescope here

Learn more about the James Webb Space Telescope

Discover NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center here

Learn more about NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer