Help Wanted Finding a New Planet

Physics postdoc's research useful in search

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The pursuit of Planet Nine — a hypothesized Neptune-like giant that some scientists believe may be cruising along a remote orbit in our solar system — can now go door-to-door.

A new NASA-launched citizen science project is looking for the public's help in reviewing more than a million animations to identify moving space objects that could be new discoveries. The effort benefited from data research on a cosmology project led by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

Each animation in this "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9" project, launched Feb. 15, is composed of four infrared images taken of the same patch of sky over the course of the past five years by NASA's WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) space telescope.

Aaron Meisner, a UC Berkeley physics postdoctoral researcher who works on DESI (Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument), a sky-mapping project led by the Berkeley Lab, said his research earned him a spot on the Backyard Worlds team.

"It turns out that the WISE data that I was adapting for DESI is really good for looking for moving objects," such as brown dwarfs, said Meisner. "We wouldn't have all of this WISE data available in this form if it wasn't for DESI," he added.

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Editor: 
Glenn Roberts Jr.