Through a new website, DiskDetective.org, citizen scientists can sift through data collected by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, the agency reported Thursday.
"Through Disk Detective, volunteers will help the astronomical community discover new planetary nurseries that will become future targets for NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope," said James Garvin, the chief scientist for NASA Goddard's Sciences and Exploration Directorate.
WISE, designed to survey the entire sky at infrared wavelengths, completed two scans of the entire sky from its orbit around Earth between 2010 and 2011.
While there may be thousands of nascent solar systems in the WISE data, the only way to know for sure is to inspect each source by eye, a monumental challenge that led NASA turn to a crowdsourcing solution.
The space agency has teamed up with Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the Internet.
Volunteers will be able to look at WISE images and classify objects based on simple criteria, such as whether the image is round or includes multiple objects. The information will help astronomers assess which sources should be explored in greater detail in the future.
"Disk Detective's simple and engaging interface allows volunteers from all over the world to participate in cutting-edge astronomy research that wouldn't even be possible without their efforts," said Laura Whyte, director of citizen science at Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Ill., and a founding partner of the Zooniverse collaboration.
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