Top image: This artist’s concept illustrates a close-up view of a cool brown dwarf. Objects like this, drifting just beyond our solar system, have been imaged by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, and many more could be discovered by Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. Image by NASA

Does our solar system have an undiscovered planet?

You can help astronomers find out

February 15, 2017

Hiding out in the neighborhood

In addition to searching for a distant planet orbiting the sun, this new project will help astronomers identify the sun’s nearest neighbors outside of our solar system.

This diagram shows the orbits of several Kuiper Belt objects that were used to infer the existence of Planet 9. If it exists, Planet 9 may reveal itself in WISE infrared images.

Backyard Worlds: Planet 9

So how do astronomers find such objects in space? That’s where you can contribute using a website that enlists the help of citizen scientists. It’s called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, and it uses images taken by NASA’s WISE space telescope.

Above: Previously known brown dwarf WISE 0855–0714 is seen here in this Backyard World flipbook as a moving orange dot at upper left. Citizen scientists will be asked to inspect images just like this to search for new objects in the solar neighborhood. Photo courtesy of NASA

If it moves, check it out

The search method is a 21st-century version of the same technique used at Arizona’s Lowell Observatory by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. He discovered dwarf planet Pluto 87 years ago this week, on Feb. 18, 1930. Back then, Tombaugh compared two photographs taken a couple weeks apart, looking for a tiny dot of light that shifted position.

Backyard Worlds: The Search For Planet 9

Official Medium account of ASU. № 1 in innovation. Top 10 of all universities worldwide for U.S. patents awarded. Find more ASU news at asunow.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store