You don't have to be an scientist to participate in NASA's new crowdsourced research project

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DiskDetective.org is NASA's new crowd sourced astronomy project. It is being billed as exemplifying the agency's "new commitment to crowdsourcing and open data by the United States government." The website contains images from the agency's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission.

"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.

Between 2010 and 2011 the WISE mission took detailed measurements of 745 million objects. NASA astronomers have already done computer searches of all of the data in a search for planet-forming environments and have narrowed the pile to a half million objects. What they are looking for, specifically, as dust-rich disks that are absorbing and then re-radiating the heat from their stars.

"Planets form and grow within disks of gas, dust and icy grains that surround young stars, but many details about the process still elude us," said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "We need more examples of planet-forming habitats to better understand how planets grow and mature."

The problem is that galaxies, interstellar dust clouds and asteroids glow in ways that make them look similar to the planet forming clouds.

DiskDetective.org combines the WISE images with other photos and data collected by NASA and then asks volunteers to answer questions about what they are looking at such as “is the subject of the image round” or “does the image contain multiple objects.”

"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., a founding partner of the Zooniverse collaboration.

With the help of volunteers, NASA hopes to reduce the half-million objects that are left down to a reasonable number that the agency can examine more closely with the Hubble Space Telescope.

 
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