Professional and citizen astronomers with the NASA-funded ‘Backyard Worlds: Planet 9’ job have actually made their very first significant discovery: a new brown dwarf in the solar area, WISEA J110125.95 +540052.8.
The Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 site lets anyone with a computer and an internet connection flip through images taken by NASA’s NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).
If an object is close enough to Earth, it will appear to ‘jump’ when several images taken of the very same spot in the sky a couple of years apart are compared.
The objective for Backyard Worlds volunteers— of which there are more than 38,000– is to flag the moving objects they see in these digital flipbooks for more investigation by the science group.
Backyard World’s researchers explained, “We constructed the citizen science website ‘Backyard Worlds: Planet 9’ using the Zooniverse project builder platform,”
“We uploaded the sets of four difference images to the site to be viewed by users as animated ‘flipbooks’.
“The classification task consists of viewing one flipbook and searching it for candidate moving objects, then marking any such objects in all four images using a marking tool. A tutorial and a ‘Field Guide’ provide examples of two different kinds of candidate objects, called ‘movers’ (fast-moving sources) and ‘dipoles’ (slower-moving sources).”
“The primary challenge for users is distinguishing movers and dipoles from various artifacts, the most common of which are stars and galaxies that have been partially-subtracted because of variability or small alignment errors. Cosmic ray hits, optical ghosts and latent images are also common.”
On February 21, 2017, just six days after the launch of the website, Backyard Worlds volunteer Bob Fletcher, a science teacher at Lambert School in Hobart, Tasmania, noted the existence of a small ‘dipole’ in the flipbook showing the ‘subtile’ centered at R.A. 165.46 degrees, declination 54.03 degrees.
Three other citizen astronomers — Rosa Castro from the United States, Khasan Mokaev from Kabardino-Balkar Republic, and Tamara Stajic from Serbia — also helped classify this flipbook and noted the object.
After some preliminary examination, Backyard World’s researchers were awarded time on the 3-m NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, where they verified that it was a previously unknown brown dwarf.
“I was so proud of our volunteers as I saw the data on this new cold world coming in. It was a feel-good moment for science,” said Dr. Jackie Faherty, a senior scientist in the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Astrophysics and one of Backyard World’s researchers.
The newfound brown dwarf, WISEA J110125.95+540052.8, is approximately 111 light-years away.