Maybe you could find Planet 9
February 16, 2017 6:30 AM   Subscribe

A fun new citizen science project called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 launches today! The goal is to look for fast-moving but very faint substellar objects in the solar neighborhood. The sensitivity is good enough that you could even potentially spot the theoretical ninth planet in the dataset!

The platform blinks 4 epochs of reprocessed WISE images.This reprocessing, combined with the pattern recognition capabilities of thousands of human brains, allows investigation of crowded fields traditionally inaccessible to programmatic searches.

Using the same technique Clyde Tombaugh used to discover Pluto 87 years ago this Saturday, you might discover a variety of exciting new worlds that lurk right in your backyard.
posted by Rob Rockets (14 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
As I learned when I was six, and is still true today:

The ninth planet is Pluto.

Plutonian 4 LYFE!
posted by darkstar at 6:48 AM on February 16, 2017

Seriously, though, this is pretty cool.
posted by darkstar at 6:51 AM on February 16, 2017

@plutokiller (Mike Brown) did it to make room for his own Planet 9.
posted by wotsac at 7:17 AM on February 16, 2017

The tenth planet is Pluto.

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumea, MakeMake, Eris, maybe some others but anyway pluto is at least tenth.
posted by sfenders at 7:21 AM on February 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh wow, I spent a tremendous amount of time on the exoplanet finder on Zooniverse a few years ago. It's a long weekend here starting Saturday, and I can see all of it being taken up by this.
posted by Quindar Beep at 7:22 AM on February 16, 2017

Ceres also suffered Pluto's fate, though it was long enough ago that no-one remembers it. The first four asteroids were discovered over the course of six years from 1801 to 1807. After that there were no others until 1845, at which point they started coming fast and furious. It was only then that they were re-classified as not-planets.

Astronomers were concerned with the fact that even the early-discovered asteroids were so much smaller than the other planets, but managed to convince themselves that the orbits of the four were consistent with a larger planet exploding into pieces. So until Karl Ludwig Hencke discovered 5 Astraea and broke the dam, the consensus was that the asteroids were just a special case of planet.

So that means not only Pluto and Ceres, but the other three early asteroids (Juno, Pallas, and Vesta) all share the dubious distinction of being demoted from planet status. Pluto's the only one to be demoted from Planet 9, though, as Neptune didn't enter the roster until 1846.
posted by Quindar Beep at 7:46 AM on February 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.

My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts about Planet 9 from Outer Space?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:06 AM on February 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

So what you're saying, Quindar, in scientific terms, is that the "Planet 9" designation is cursed.
posted by darkstar at 8:07 AM on February 16, 2017

Given that I currently feel that we're living in a disaster movie, I expect this is going to be followed up by some young budding scientist discovering either (a) an asteroid hurtling towards earth or (b) evidence of an alien ship approaching earth. This will be followed by the news chryon of my nightmares - "Pres. Trump to address space threat".
posted by nubs at 8:23 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes, precisely, darkstar. No surprise given that it's a Gemini -- its chakras must be all over the place.
posted by Quindar Beep at 10:12 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

A few years ago I participated in a very similar exercise that was called Ice Hunters. To add a little spice, there was the possibility that the project might find a new Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) that the New Horizons probe could aim at after it passed Pluto. I don't believe Ice Hunters was able to find a suitable target for New Horzions, but a lot of new KBOs were found.

I subsequently tried a number of Zooniverse's other projects, including exoplanet hunting, mapping the moon, and identifying geysers on Mars. I tended to find these to be frustratingly difficult, or else the tasks felt too loosely defined. If you've felt similarly, then maybe give this Planet 9 project a try. I found Ice Hunters to be a pleasantly hypnotic time killer, and I expect Planet 9 to be similar.
posted by polecat at 11:40 AM on February 16, 2017

I signed right up, and decided if I have an impulse to play a game, I will do this first. So I made a bunch of mistakes first, then reread everything, now I am better.
posted by Oyéah at 6:22 PM on February 16, 2017

Checking back in, this is an hypnotic pastime. The four images that flash on repeat, do so at a rhythm like a resting heartbeat, just for starters. Then some of the images degrade into plaid, and then at times the junctions in the plaid are marked by stars. Then with the change of screens the big cross stars seem to twinkle, and so you can do twinkle, twinkle, little star, or play Stravinsky's Firebird in behind what you are gazing at. At times events seem to be linked, implicating motion through the screens. So it is a soothing activity, unlike watching the politics unfold, or losing at a game.
posted by Oyéah at 9:10 PM on February 16, 2017

"Using the same technique Clyde Tombaugh used to discover Pluto"

A central Illinois boy who started his stargazing here in our cornfields!

(Later, Dr. Tombaugh was very generous to downstate Illinois astronomy clubs and used to come guest-speak at them at every opportunity to encourage other downstate kids and amateurs into the hobby and profession; most of the local astronomy buffs we've met over the age of about 30 met him at least a few times.)

Mini McGee just completed his first science project (for kindergarten, of all things) and it is about stargazing. (Parents could help come up with the project but the kids had to think of their own hypothesis and perform their own experiment. So his hypothesis was that he could see more stars away from the city lights, and the experiment was, we drove way out into the countryside and counted how many stars we could see in Orion. Then we drove back in towards the city and counted again, four times, using a light pollution map to choose our spots.) Anyway Mini McGee loves Clyde Tombaugh because he's a guy from downstate Illinois, just like him, who loved to look at stars, just like him. I have a feeling we'll be spending a lot of time looking for Planet Nine -- which, Mini McGee will tell you, is probably about Neptunian sized, was hypothesized by Batygin and Brown (he has memorized their names), and that they've only found it "with math" that explains the obits of several Kuiper Belt objects that are "weird in ways that mean there's probably a big gravity body they haven't found yet," and they hope to see it on telescopes in the next five years.

(Some poor dumb-ass kid in his preschool class called Pluto a planet and got like a five-minute call-out from Mini McGee on what makes a planet and why Pluto is not one.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:13 PM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

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