NASA this week announced a new website, DiskDetective.org. The website allows visitors to help NASA researchers cull through data to help uncover young systems that could one day spawn planets.
"Through Disk Detective, volunteers will help the astronomical community discover new planetary nurseries that will become future targets for NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope," said James Garvin, chief scientist for the Sciences and Exploration Directorate at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
The images on the Disk Detective website come from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. From 2010 to 2011 the WISE spacecraft conducted a comprehensive survey of the sky at infrared wavelengths, imaging more than 745 million objects.
Now, the Disk Detective website will allow everyone to help sort these objects by category. What astronomers are looking for are bright objects that appear to be planetary systems in-utero. With millions of candidates to sort through and computer techniques insufficient they are relying on the eyes of volunteers to crowdsource the research and find targets for future observations.
"Planets form and grow within disks of gas, dust and icy grains that surround young stars, but many details about the process still elude us," said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist Goddard. "We need more examples of planet-forming habitats to better understand how planets grow and mature."
According to NASA, the Disk Detective project is another in a new commitment by the U.S. government to open data and crowdsourcing. NASA has used crowdsourcing to forward scientific research in the past. Most notably the agency set up a crowdsourcing effort to help with the classification of interstellar clouds.
Image via NASA