NASA has just launched a new citizen science project – it wants to help the public find and identify new exoplanets.
Nine Planet Patrol platform asks volunteers to look at images taken by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), reports Space.com, in which NASA suspects, but is not sure if there is a new hidden exoplanet. In this way, NASA scientists can focus their efforts on this, instead of sorting the mountains of data themselves.
This is the kind of thing that, technically, could be automated with a trained algorithm to identify new planets, reports Space.com. But it seems that in this case there is no substitute for human judgment.
The TESS team uses algorithms to analyze the huge set of satellite data and eliminate false positive tracks. But computers are far from infallible, so researchers have also called for human help. Citizen scientists have already researched TESS’s “light curves” – graphs of stellar luminosity over time – through Planet Hunters TESS, a project led by Oxford University in England.
“Automatic TESS data processing methods sometimes fail to capture objects that look like exoplanets,” Veselin Kostov, a NASA researcher leading the Planet Patrol project, said in a statement. Press release. “The human eye is extremely good at detecting these objects and we need citizen scientists to help us distinguish between lookalikes and authentic planets,” he added.
Planet Patrol is not the only scientific project for citizens, which analyzes TESS data for signs of exoplanets, reports Space.com. Another initiative, Planet Hunters TESS, works for the same purpose, but analyzes the data in a different way. “We all swim through the same sea of data, just using different research methods,” said Marc Kuchner, NASA’s scientific officer in a statement.