New planet Discovered. Was it you?
One late night I was talking with a friend on skype. I couldn’t fall asleep and was quite bored, when he dropped me a link to planethunters.org . He told me that I could contribute to science, by spotting new planets in the lightcurves, provided from the publicly released data obtained by NASA’s Kepler mission. I thought the idea of every single human having a chance to contribute to science, was truly amazing, so even though I had no real interest in it, I decided to give it a go.
I loaded the site, and it showed the warning about some cookies policy, which was followed by a question if I wanted to continue. It raised my suspicion, but I did continue anyway. The website seemed very welcoming and my suspicions, if this website was safe and genuine, were soon gone. There was a tutorial which step by step taught how to spot the planets. It appeared you can find new planets by looking how the brightness of a star changes over time. It also said that as the planet passes in front of the star, we see a dip in the light from it I pressed next, and here it asked me to spot the transits.
Ok, here I realized that it might be more difficult than I thought. I stared into these tiny little white dots on my laptop screen, which were supposed to be stars or planets, but couldn’t spot anything. When I pressed the `next` button again, it showed all the transits, but by that time, my enthusiasm was half gone. The website, on the other hand was supportive, consoling that transit hunting is hard and requires practice. After tutorial I was given some real data with the message that registered members get to see the best stars, and also get the credit for their work. I pressed the button `register` and became a registered planet hunter!
The question if anybody ever really discovered a new planet kept nagging me, so instead of diving straight into planet hunting, I decided to find out just a bit more. I went to the forum, and here I found a bunch of enthusiasts discussing if the objects they spotted could be real planets. I went through different posts and it appeared that some objects found, could be real candidates. The website said, that they do not have any confirmed planets yet, but when they will find likely looking candidates, they’ll post them here along with the names of those lucky hunters who are in line to make discoveries. So, no planets found yet. Another half of my enthusiasm was gone, so I pressed ‘close’ button and decided to leave planet hunting for real science enthusiasts. But it wasn’t the end. All this science thing crept into my mind, and the next day I was back at the website, surfing through it.
I found out that it all started with a single project called Galaxy Zoo in 2007 and were overwhelmed and overawed by the response to the project. Galaxy Zoo was important because not only was it incredibly popular, but it produced many unique scientific results, ranging from individual, serendipitous discoveries to those using classifications that depend on the input of everyone who’s visited the site. It leaded to Zooniverse – real science online ( www.zooniverse.org ), which has a big number of live projects, and planethunters.org is only one of them.
In the list of projects you will find ancient lives, the milky way project, galaxy zoo hubble, old Weather, solar storm watch and some other ongoing projects. They even have humanities column where you can help to describe the Libraries’ digitised music collections. I must admit, there is really a wide choice of how you want to contribute to science. You can also choose between taking part in science projects and experimenting in laboratory, which is not exactly what I had in mind when first saw it. Here you can help to search for interesting signals coming from the Kepler Field to find life on another planet, or help NASA`s project called NEEMO-15 (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) which is sending a crew of astronauts and engineers to the National Marine Sanctuary in Key Largo, Florida to live in an underwater base for 10 days to research marine life and prepare explorers for missions to far-off planetary destinations.
A robotic submarine took thousands of pictures of the reef around the Aquarius habitat and with your help, they can prepare the crew, traverse planners, and mission directors quicker and better than they could ever do on their own…
I could go on and on, but I am pretty sure that you will want to find it all yourself. As I, having no real interest in science, am now participating in two of the projects, and finding it so damned exciting, that i do not ever complain again about spending too much meaningless time on facebook.