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Backyard Worlds – Finding Planet 9

NASA needs the help of Citizen Scientists.

It has created a new website called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 and is asking for the public’s help to search for new worlds in the outer reaches of the solar system and nearby interstellar space. Brief flipbook films are made from images captured by NASA’s wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission (WISE); they show how small patches of sky change over several years. Sources that have moved gradually across that patch of sky over several years could be previously unknown objects in and beyond our solar system.

Planet Nine? Sorry Pluto we aren’t talking about you, or even Eris. Planet Nine is the planet that theoretically exists in our solar system. In 2016 the California Institute of Technology identified several solar system objects that seemd to orbit as though affected by gravity from an undetected planet, they nicknamed that source Planet Nine. If Planet Nine exists then it may show up on a WISE flipbook.

The search also hopes to discover more distant objects like failed stars – Brown dwarfs – in our Solar System backyard. Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets – cold ones are similar to Jupiter.

These objects are too dim to be surveyed automatically. The human brain and the human eye is required to distinguish moving celestial bodies from ghosts and other artifacts.

On the Backyard website it is hoped that people from all around the world will work their way through millions of flipbooks, flagging moving objects that can then be followed up by professional astronomers. Participants will receive credit for their discoveries in any science publications that result from the project.

A chance to enjoy astronomy even on a cloudy winter’s evening and from the warmth of your own home – what could be better?


Video Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab/Krystofer D.J. Kim

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