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Gamers Help Discover New Potential Planets Using NASA Data
Gamers Help Discover New Potential Planets Using NASA Data
September 28, 2011 | By Mike Rose

September 28, 2011 | By Mike Rose
More: Serious, Business/Marketing

University researchers have identified what may potentially be two planets outside of our solar system, thanks to users taking part in an online gaming experiment.

A number of organizations, including The University of Oxford and Yale University, set up a browser game called Planet Hunters, which allows players to look through data supplied by the Kepler public archives and search for potential planets.

Players are able to observe the light emitted by stars, and seek out periods during which the light curve for particular stars dips in signal, suggesting that a planet may be moving across the face of the star.

The team is then able to use the collected data to search for planets in potential areas, rather than having to sort through over 150,000 individual stars amongst a small group of scientists.

Every user who helps to discover a planet is then named in the acknowledgements as part of The Royal Astronomical Society monthly notices.

"Planet Hunters is a new citizen science project, designed to engage the public in an exoplanet search using NASA Kepler public release data," explains the official report [PDF].

"In the first month after launch, users identified two new planet candidates which survived our checks for false-positives."

The team described the involvement of citizen scientists as "a valuable and reliable tool."

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Joshua Sterns
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Facundo Hermida
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Maria Jayne
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You know when I see this and the Protean folding game that helped work towards a cure for AIDS, after I think how awesome technology on the internet is, what I keep wondering is the term "gamer" seems quite loose to me....

I just can't see someone playing foldit or that planethunter game and then hopping on call of duty or team fortress multiplayer or logging in to World of Warcraft. Perhaps I'm wrong though.....maybe its just me that feels as dumb as a rock when trying to figure these games out.

Trevor Cuthbertson
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Out of this world! Now we can all try to find that “Hot Jupiter” orbiting Zeta Reticuli!

Kale Menges
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It is certainly a stretch to call Planet Hunters, as it currently stands, a "game". In fact, there is virtually little to no actual interactivity while using the site. It has a certain appeal as an activity to those interested in astronomy or space exploration, etc., but the nature of said activity is more akin to data analysis or spreadsheet work... On a personal note, I rather enjoy Planet Hunters, but in the same way I enjoy watching documentaries like The Universe or Through The Wormhole. If perhaps the system were set up with some kind of more in-depth visualizer for the data, like a "galactic map" interface resembling the map screen of Mass Effect or something, then maybe it wouldn't feel like such a stretch to call it a game, aesthetically speaking. Maybe they could even add leader boards or achievements or something while they're at it. I would totally geek out. ;)