What is Planet Hunters?
Planet Hunters, the latest project from the Zooniverse, is a citizen science project. Participants help us sieve through data taken by the NASA Kepler space mission. These data consist of brightness measurements, or “light curves,” taken every thirty minutes for more than 150,000 stars. Users search for possible transit events – a brief dip in brightness that occurs when a planet passes in front of the star – with the goal of discovering a planet (hence the name “Planet Hunters”). The most difficult detections for Planet Hunters and for computer-based searches will be those from planets that orbit far from their star and therefore cross the star infrequently. It may also be difficult for computer algorithms to detect planets in data that has artificial offsets (which can occur with telescope pointing errors or space craft rolls). Planet Hunter participants may be better than computers at finding signals in this type of data. Because of the outstanding pattern recognition of the human brain, we hope that participants will also establish new “families” or classifications for the light curves. We will be standing by to obtain more data at telescopes to better understand the underlying physical reason for the different classifications.