A website where anyone can search for Planet 9

A screenshot from the "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9" website
A screenshot from the “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” website

The new “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” initiative by NASA and various American institutions along with the Zooniverse platform was announced to allow anyone connected to the Internet to participate in the search for the ninth planet of the solar system. You can connect to the project’s website, examine images captured by the WISE space telescope and report any moving objects.

NASA launched the “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” initiative together with UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University in Tempe, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and Zooniverse, a collaboration that includes scientists, software developers and educators who run scientific projects involving citizen scientists.

In the case of “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” it’s a research that has recently received much publicity. The possibility that a hitherto unknown planet beyond Neptune exists has been so far only a hypothesis, based on deductions connected to the orbits of some Kuiper Belt objects, which is precisely the area of ​​the solar system beyond Neptune. Just over a year ago the publication of an article on the subject in the journal “The Astronomical Journal” spurred new hopes about the ninth planet and the searches intensified.

According to the authors of that article, the ninth planet has a mass that is about 10 times that of Earth, meaning a planet similar to Uranus or Neptune. It should be about 20 times further from the Sun than Neptune and this is the reason why it’s never been seen so far.

However, all this is the result of mathematical models and computer simulations, not observations. In fact, its existence with its gravitational influence is a possible explanation to the orbits of some Kuiper belt objects but our information about them might still be insufficient to explain them properly.

In this situation of doubt, one of the most solid possibilities to gather new information consists in examining images of the sky. NASA’s WISE space telescope was an exoplanet hunter but after the end of its original mission it was repurposed for a new one in pursuit of closer objects, even within the solar system.

The exam that can be carried out by the collaborators is carried out on flipbooks, short animations consisting of a image sequences of a portion of sky taken at different times. The examiners, whether they’re professional astronomers or a simple fans, might notice a moving object and report it for more detailed studies. On the “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” project website anyone can try to locate an object that could be a brown dwarf or planet 9.

In recent years many scientific projects of very different types relied on crowdsourcing by inviting web surfers to collaborate in various ways. Even the latest machine learning algorithms require training periods that can be long to be used in a specific type of research where a human being can start working on it in a useful way after a few minutes of reading instruction and attempts.

In short, you too can participate in this research and hope to be the lucky discoverer of the mysterious ninth planet. Its existence is controversial and there are various hypotheses around it such as the possibility that it’s a planet that was born in another solar system and captured later. In any case, it’s an interesting research that may involve many people.

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