With a big universe around us, where the heck do you point your telescope when looking for planets? Bigger observatories are set to head to orbit in the next decade, including NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s PLATO (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars). Telling them where to look will be a challenge.
But it’s less of an issue thanks to the dedicated efforts of amateurs. Volunteers sifting through data from a NASA mission called WISE (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) have now classified an astounding one million potential debris disks and disks surrounding young stars.
“Combing through objects identified by WISE during its infrared survey of the entire sky, Disk Detective aims to find two types of developing planetary environments,” NASA stated in a press release touting the achievement.
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“The first, known as a YSO disk, typically is less than 5 million years old, contains large quantities of gas, and often is found in or near young star clusters. The second planetary habitat, known as a debris disk, tends to be older than 5 million years, holds little or no gas, and possesses belts of rocky or icy debris that resemble the asteroid and Kuiper belts found in our own solar system.”
What’s more astounding is how little time it took — the program Disk Detective was only launched in January 2014. These are ripe environments in which young planets can form, providing plenty of spots for telescopes to turn their eyes. The search is expected to go on through 2018.
Want to contribute? Check out the website and see if you can help with the search!