Gamers help discover two new planets

gamers help discover two new planets keplerIn what is starting to look like the beginnings of a trend, casual gamers have helped scientists make significant discoveries through a specially designed game for the second time this month. Using a small portion of the massive amounts of data collected by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, people playing the browser-based game Planet Hunters have helped to identify two new planets in the Cygnus Constellation.

Earlier this months a different type of game called FoldIt helped researchers solve a decade old chemical structure puzzle, thanks to the efforts of thousands of gamers around the world that were presented with an enzyme as part of a puzzle game. Within ten days the combined efforts of the gamers resulted in deciphering the enzyme which could help AIDS researchers find a cure.

While perhaps not quite as groundbreaking, the recently released report for Planet Hunters shows that using average citizens to help with complex tasks—when presented in an entertaining fashion—can lead to some incredible results.

“Planet Hunters is a new citizen science project, designed to engage the public in an exoplanet search using NASA Kepler public release data. In the first month after launch, users identified two new planet candidates which survived our checks for false-positives,” the report said.

gamers help discover two new planets planet hunters

Where FoldIt was essentially a puzzle game that gave scores and even had leaderboards for properly aligning enzymes in their most energy efficient manner, Planet Hunters is a bit more observational in nature. The game takes sections of data from NASA’s Kepler telescope, then asks users to look for light anomalies, which could lead to the discovery of a planet.

The Kepler telescope has currently collected light emission data on over 150,000 stars. The telescope measures the light output of these stars every 30 seconds in the hopes that it will see a slight dimming, which could denote that a planet is crossing the sun’s surface and blocking a small portion of the light output. The bigger the planet, the bigger the dimming effect. Computers can help compile the data, but are not able to differentiate the transit events anymore than a computer could identify a particular face from a picture of crowded football stadium. It is meticulous work that needs to be done by a person.

The sheer amount of data researchers have to go through is overwhelming, and that’s where Planet Hunters comes in. People are asked to sift through fields of stars that have been tracked for a 30+ day period. Players then look for “transit events,” which is the brief dimming in the star that happens when a planet passes in front of it. The further a planet is from the star, the longer it will be before it crosses and therefore becomes more difficult to find, while the planets closet to their stars are relatively easier to detect. Players are tasked with identifying these light dips.

While not quite as enthralling as FoldIt’s puzzle format, Planet Hunter has registered over 40,000 members since it went live in 2009. In 4 million games the players have discovered 69 possible planets, the first two of which have just passed NASA’s scrutiny. NASA researchers will continue to sift through the data submitted and announce any more results. As for the people that discovered the two planets, I09 reports that they will officially acknowledged by the Royal Astronomical Society.

The game is funded by the zooniverse.org, a scientific community website that presents projects like Planet Hunters in order to help professionals sort through data in fun ways.

“The involvement of citizen scientists as part of Planet Hunters is therefore shown to be a valuable and reliable tool in exoplanet detection,” the report confirmed.

Emerging Tech

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a super-speedy pulsar

A super-speedy pulsar has been spotted dashing across the sky, discovered using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Very Large Array. The pulsar is traveling at a breathtaking 2.5 million miles an hour.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover passes its tests with flying colors

The Mars 2020 rover team has been undertaking a series of tests to see if the craft will be able to launch, navigate, and land on the Red Planet. Called Systems Test 1, or ST1, these tests represent the first test drive of the new rover.
Emerging Tech

Trip to Neptune’s moon, Triton, could inform search for extraterrestrial life

NASA has proposed sending a craft to Neptune to study its largest moon, Triton. Studying Triton could offer clues to how liquid water is maintained on planets, which may indicate what to look for when searching for life beyond our planet.
Mobile

How three simple words could be the difference between life and death

What3Words’ app-based address system gives a three-word code to every three-meter-square patch on the planet, with its accuracy and ease of use now catching the attention of first responders in the U.K.
Emerging Tech

Asteroid Ryugu is porous, shaped like a spinning top, and is formed of rubble

The Japanese Space Agency has been exploring a distant asteroid named Ryugu with its probe, Hayabusa 2. Now the first results from study of the asteroid are in, with three new papers published.
Emerging Tech

Chilean telescope uncovers one of the oldest star clusters in the galaxy

An ultra-high definition image captured by the Gemini South telescope in Chile has uncovered one of the oldest star clusters in the Milky Way. The cluster, called HP 1, could give clues to how our galaxy was formed billions of years ago.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers discover giant chimneys spewing energy from the center of the galaxy

Astronomers have discovered two exhaust channels which are funneling matter and energy away from the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy and out towards the edges of the galaxy, dubbed galactic center chimneys.
Emerging Tech

A milestone in the history of particle physics: Why does matter exist?

If matter and antimatter were both produced in equal amounts by the Big Bang, why is there so much matter around us and so little antimatter? A new experiment from CERN may hold the answer to this decades-long puzzle.
Emerging Tech

Dublin Airport has a novel idea for tackling rogue drones

There are a growing number of technology-based solutions for dealing with rogue drones flying near airports, but officials at Dublin Airport have come up with another idea for keeping the skies safe.
Emerging Tech

This sleek new exoskeleton makes walking easier, fits under your clothes

A new ankle exoskeleton that is designed to be worn under clothes can help people to walk without fatiguing — and without restricting natural motion or drawing attention to itself.
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s latest breakthrough could make DNA-based data centers possible

Could tomorrow's data centers possibly store information in the form of synthetic DNA? Researchers from Microsoft have successfully encoded the word "hello" into DNA and then back again.
Emerging Tech

Here are the best (and least likely to explode) hoverboards you can buy

With widespread reports of cheap, knock-off Chinese hoverboards exploding, these self-balancing scooters may be getting a rough reputation. They're not all bad, though. Ride in style with our picks for the best -- and safest -- hoverboards
Emerging Tech

Google’s Street View is mapping Earth’s most Mars-like terrain

Devon Island is a remote location in Canada's Arctic that's said to be the most Mars-like place on Earth. Street View recently visited the island to map the terrain and meet some of the scientists working there.
Emerging Tech

China has plans to build an orbital solar plant that beams energy down to Earth

China is hoping to build a giant orbiting solar power station which can tap the sun’s rays without having to worry about inconveniences like dense cloud cover or day and night cycles.