Help discover new exoplanets (aka extrasolar planets/planets orbiting other stars) by exploring space telescope data from NASA’s Kepler mission. Planet Hunters is an online experiment that taps into the power of human pattern recognition.
The data consists of brightness measurements, or “light curves”, taken every thirty minutes for more than 150,000 stars in the Cygnus constellation. The Kepler team has been developing computer algorithms to analyze light curve data because it is not possible for them to visually inspect every light curve. In a sense, the Planet Hunters team is pitting human versus machine, betting that there will be planets which can only be found via the remarkable human ability for pattern recognition.
You will be looking at changes in star brightness at a level that has never before been seen. As a participant, you’ll search for possible transit events – a brief dip in brightness that occurs when a planet passes in front of the star – with the goal of discovering an exoplanet (hence the name “Planet Hunters”).
Participants are considered partners with the Planet Hunters science team, who will obtain follow up observations at the telescope based on analyzing participants’ assessments. What happens if you are the first person to discover a new exoplanet? If the Planet Hunters science team is able to confirm it’s real (by checking the Kepler team’s existing exoplanet list and obtaining spectroscopic data using the Keck telescope in Hawaii), you’ll be invited to be a co-author on a discovery paper submitted for publication.