Sunday, December 19, 2010

Now You Can Find Planets Around Other Stars at Home

I've always been a fan of ways that the general public (you and me) can help make discoveries and advance the state of science and technology. In the past, I've given updates on the PlanetQuest project, which seeks to give the general public the tools to help find extrasolar planets. That project is still in the works, but now the fine folks at Zooniverse (creators of the GalaxyZoo project, among others) have beaten them to the punch.

Zooniverse's latest citizen-science project is Planet Hunters, which displays the light-curve of a star on the screen and allows you to use one of the great strengths of the human brain&emdash;pattern recognition&emdash;to determine whether there are gaps or transit events in the light curve.

The site is pretty cool, but it has some problems... the biggest of which is no support for Internet Explorer. Your feelings on the various web browsers aside, a citizen science project should support the browsers most commonly used by the citizenry. Also, after you classify a star, it offers you the opportunity to discuss the star. But after you answer that question, the site has a tendency to hang. I spent some time classifying stars, and suffered a number of hangs.

Still, it is an interesting way to spend a little bit of time, and could result in discoveries of planets in the Kepler data.