[meteorite-list] Volunteer 'Disk Detectives' Classify Possible Planetary Habitats

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Tue, 6 Jan 2015 12:49:52 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <201501062049.t06Knq66010705_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Volunteer 'Disk Detectives' Classify Possible Planetary Habitats
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
January 6, 2015

A NASA-sponsored website designed to crowdsource analysis of data from
the agency's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission has reached
an impressive milestone. In less than a year, citizen scientists using
DiskDetective.org have logged 1 million classifications of potential debris
disks and disks surrounding young stellar objects (YSO). This data will
help provide a crucial set of targets for future planet-hunting missions.

"This is absolutely mind-boggling," said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist
at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the
project's principal investigator. "We've already broken new ground with
the data, and we are hugely grateful to everyone who has contributed to
Disk Detective so far."

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. 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. Vega and
Fomalhaut, two of the brightest stars in the sky, host debris disks.

Planets form and grow within disks of gas, dust and icy grains surrounding
young stars. The particles absorb the star's light and reradiate it as
heat, which makes the stars brighter at infrared wavelengths -- in this
case, 22 microns -- than they would be without a disk.

Computer searches already have identified some objects seen by the WISE
survey as potential dust-rich disks. But software can't distinguish them
from other infrared-bright sources, such as galaxies, interstellar dust
clouds and asteroids. There may be thousands of potential planetary systems
in the WISE data, but the only way to know for sure is to inspect each
source by eye.

Kuchner recognized that searching the WISE database for dusty disks was
a perfect opportunity for crowdsourcing. He worked with NASA to team up
with the Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers
and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects
on the Internet.

At DiskDetective.org, volunteers watch a 10-second "flip book" of a disk
candidate shown at several different wavelengths as observed from three
different telescopes, including WISE. They then click one or more buttons
that best describe the object's appearance. Each classification helps
astronomers decide which images may be contaminated by background galaxies,
interstellar matter or image artifacts, and which may be real disks that
should be studied in more detail.

In March 2014, just two months after Disk Detective launched, Kuchner
was amazed to find just how invested in the project some users had become.
Volunteers complained about seeing the same object over and over. "We
thought at first it was a bug in the system," Kuchner explained, "but
it turned out they were seeing repeats because they had already classified
every single object that was online at the time."

Some 28,000 visitors around the world have participated in the project
to date. What's more, volunteers have translated the site into eight foreign
languages, including Romanian, Mandarin and Bahasa, and have produced
their own video tutorials on using it.

Many of the project's most active volunteers are now joining in science
team discussions, and the researchers encourage all users who have performed
more than 300 classifications to contact them and take part.

One of these volunteers is Tade?? Cernohous, a postgraduate student in
geodesy and cartography at Brno University of Technology in the Czech
Republic. "I barely understood what scientists were looking for when I
started participating in Disk Detective, but over the past year I have
developed a basic sense of which stars are worthy of further exploration,"
he said.

Alissa Bans, a postdoctoral fellow at Adler Planetarium in Chicago and
a member of the Disk Detective science team, recalls mentioning that she
was searching for candidate YSOs and presented examples of what they might
look like on Disk Detective. "In less than 24 hours," she said, "Tade??
had compiled a list of nearly 100 objects he thought could be YSOs, and
he even included notes on each one."

Speaking at a press conference at the American Astronomical Society meeting
in Seattle on Tuesday, Kuchner said the project has so far netted 478
objects of interest, which the team is investigating with a variety of
ground-based telescopes in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Argentina
and Chile. "We now have at least 37 solid new disk candidates, and we
haven't even looked at all the new telescope data yet," he said.

Disk Detective currently includes about 278,000 WISE sources. The team
expects to wrap up the current project sometime in 2018, with a total
of about 3 million classifications and perhaps 1,000 disk candidates.
The researchers then plan to add an additional 140,000 targets to the

"We've come a long way, but there's still lots and lots more work to do
-- so please drop by the site and do a little science with us!" added

WISE has made infrared measurements of more than 745 million objects,
compiling the most comprehensive survey of the sky at mid-infrared wavelengths
currently available. With its primary mission complete, the satellite
was placed in hibernation in 2011. WISE was awoken in September 2013,
renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE),
and given a new mission to assist NASA's efforts in identifying the population
of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs).

JPL manages the NEOWISE mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate
in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the
science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo.,
built the spacecraft. Science operations and data processing take place
at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute
of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Facilities involved in follow-up studies of objects found with Disk Detective
include Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico; Palomar Observatory
on Palomar Mountain, California; the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory
on Mount Hopkins, Arizona; the Leoncito Astronomical Complex in El Leoncito
National Park, Argentina; and Las Campanas Observatory, located in the
Atacama Desert of Chile.

NASA is exploring our solar system and beyond to understand the universe
and our place in it. We seek to unravel the secrets of our universe, its
origins and evolution, and search for life among the stars. Today's announcement
shares the discovery of our ever-changing cosmos, and brings us closer
to learning whether we are alone in the universe.

More information about WISE is online at:


Media Contact

Written by Francis Reddy
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
whitney.clavin at jpl.nasa.gov

Received on Tue 06 Jan 2015 03:49:52 PM PST

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