An astronomer at Arizona State University has organized a unique project aiming to find an undiscovered planet in our solar system.
Adam Schneider, a faculty member at the School of Earth and Space Exploration, is hunting for an elusive object lost in space, somewhere between our sun and the closest stars. He and his colleagues are asking for your assistance in the search, using a new citizen-science website called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9.
The creation of the website comes after astronomers’ found evidence for a ninth planet in our solar system, thanks to significant, lengthy studies of the orbits of objects in our solar system. Astronomers focused particularly on the Kuiper Belt, a zone of comet-like bodies orbiting the sun beyond the orbit of Neptune, much farther away than the asteroid belt surronding the sun between Mars and Jupiter.
This potential planet they are looking for has not been observed directly, because it may orbit up to a thousand times father away from the sun than planet Earth does. However, its effects on the Kuiper Belt objects has been noticed. While the planet is most likely very dim and difficult to find, Schneider is dedicated his postdoctoral research to studying objects in our solar system and looking for new discoveries, including new neighbors of the sun.
The citizen science project uses images taken by NASA’s WISE space telescope (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) which was launched in 2009 and has mapped the entire sky several times since it’s inception. It detects infrared light, which makes it uniquely suited for discovering the ninth planet.
Astronomers need help sifting through the nearly 750 million individual sources currently visible in these images and identifying them while looking for moving objects. This is where Backyard Worlds comes in, as the program systematically scans infrared images.
In addition to Arizona State University, Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a group effort and collaboration between many organizations, including NASA, University of California Berkeley, American Museum of Natural History in New York, 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.
To learn more about Backyard Planets, please visit the official site to participate.