Hi! Welcome to the new Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 blog. My name is Marc Kuchner, and I’m excited to begin this search with you. I suppose you could call me the PI of this project, though I blame Dr. Jackie Faherty for coming up with the idea for it.
One day, I went to visit the Carnegie Institution Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, where Jackie used to work. I went there to give a talk about another citizen science project of mine called “Disk Detective”. Disk Detective.org is a super-fun ongoing Zooniverse project where we study images of stars using data from NASA’s WISE telescope. After I gave my talk, Jackie came up to me and said: hey, what about examining the moving objects in the WISE images? They could be brown dwarfs or even planet nine! We should launch a new citizen science project to look at those.
I had my hands full with Disk Detective and other projects, so I more or less ignored Jackie’s idea at first. But then one day I met Dr. Adam Schneider. Adam had been studying moving objects in the WISE images, and he needed help. He had looked at one million WISE images all by himself, hoping to find new nearby brown dwarfs. He had found many! But he was sure the best ones, the coldest, nearest ones, were still hiding in the data. Wouldn’t it be great if he had some friends with fresh eyes to dig deeper into the data with him? A citizen science project would be just the thing.
I still wasn’t quite sold on the idea. But then I met Dr. Aaron Meisner. Aaron had just reprocessed all the data from WISE in a new way, dividing it up into several epochs so you could easily see moving objects. He was beginning to scan through the new data set looking for evidence of planet nine. But even with the latest computers and algorithms, his search was bogged down in the galactic plane, where moving objects can easily get lost in crowded fields of stars. Aaron needed help with his search, too.
Jackie, Adam and Aaron and I put our heads together, and with lots of help and patience from Laura Trouille and the other folks at Zooniverse, we came up with this project: Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. Brown dwarf expert Joe Fillipazzo, another expert on brown dwarfs, and Shawn Domagal-Goldman, an expert on planetary atmospheres, joined the crew. Matt Beasley from Asteroid Zoo shared his wisdom. Lots of wonderful beta testers showed up. And here we are, after about twelve months of work, just about to launch. Wow.
But wait, there’s more! During the beta test, I learned that, in a way, this project had been dreamed up by citizen scientists even before invited them to participate in it. On January 24, 2016, a new topic appeared in the Zooniverse Project Building TALK forum, “planet 9, could someone with access to big telescope data set up a new project to search.” Users @TLSanders, @johnfairweather, @PolishPlanetPursuer, @JeanTate, @zutopian, @PlanetGazer8350, @planetaryscience, and @MvGulik began debating the evidence for a ninth planet, and tinkering with new projects to find it. I hope Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 lives up to their hopes.
“planet 9, could someone with access to big telescope data set up a new project to search”
If you helped with our beta test, thank you! We made many improvements to the site thanks to your feedback. The flipbooks now play automatically and continue to play (unless you stop them). The images now are labeled with celestial coordinates so you can easily look up the interesting sources you find in other astronomical catalogs. There are more examples of each different kind of object of interest (movers, dipoles, planet 9) in the field guide. I think the site really rocks. But if you think of more ideas on how to improve it, please drop us a line on TALK.
And thank you to everyone for giving this new project a try. We’ll post more articles and stories right here–you’ll be hearing from other members of the science team as time goes by–and we’ll be chatting with you on TALK. We’re looking forward to getting to know you, and we hope you make a really cool discovery!
(That’s a pun, by the way. Brown dwarfs and planet nine are cool because they have very low temperatures.)