Type of site
|Citizen science project|
|Launched||15 February 2017|
Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a NASA-funded citizen science project which is part of the Zooniverse web portal. It aims to discover new brown dwarfs and other low-mass stars, some of which might be among the nearest neighbors of the Solar System, and might conceivably detect Planet Nine. The project's principal investigator is Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Backyard Worlds was launched in February 2017 shortly before the 87th anniversary of the discovery of Pluto, which until its reclassification as a dwarf planet in 2006 was considered the Solar System's ninth major planet. Since that reclassification evidence has come to light that there may be another planet located in the outer region of the Solar System far beyond the Kuiper belt, most commonly referred to as Planet Nine. This hypothetical new planet would be located so far from the Sun that it would reflect only a very small amount of visible light, rendering it too faint to be detected in most astronomical surveys conducted to date. Models of the conjectured planet's atmosphere suggest however that methane condensation could in some cases make it detectable in infrared images captured by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope. Due to the effects of proper motion and parallax Planet Nine would appear to move in a distinctive way between images taken of the same patch of sky at different times. In addition to Planet Nine other objects such as nearby brown dwarfs would also be seen to move.
The citizen scientists search through a flip book-style animation of specially processed infrared images captured by WISE, taken with filters at the wavelengths of 3.4 and 4.6 micrometers. The images contain instrumental artifacts and are noisy, which hampers the use of automated image processing software and makes the task ideal for exploiting human visual recognition capabilities.
The project has been awarded a grant from NASA's Astrophysics Data Analysis Program which will fund it until 2020.
In November 2018, the project was "rebooted", with new images and reduced noise.
In June 2017, it was announced that Backyard Worlds had made its first official discovery: a brown dwarf designated WISEA 1101+5400, of spectral type T5.5 and located 34 parsecs (111 light years) from Earth. A paper announcing the discovery was accepted for publication in Astrophysical Journal Letters, and Backyard Worlds now holds the record among all Zooniverse projects as having the shortest time from project launch to first publication.
In December 2017, seven new brown dwarfs were confirmed, as well as two cool subdwarfs. The spectral types of the new brown dwarfs were T0, T2.8, T5, T6, T6.5, and two of type T8. In addition, there were 337 brown dwarf candidates awaiting spectra for confirmation.
As of the first anniversary of the project in February 2018, the project had discovered 17 brown dwarfs and two cool subdwarfs. The coldest object discovered is of spectral type T9, which raises hopes of discovering type Y dwarfs in the future. In addition, a spectrum was also taken of one possibly variable object of unknown type that does not actually exhibit proper motion. There are 432 objects of interest awaiting verification, of which 38 are Y dwarf candidates.
In July 2018 an update on the project's blog stated that in total 42 brown dwarfs had been spectroscopically confirmed from a list of 879 candidates. Fourteen of those confirmed are closer to the solar system than 20 parsecs (65 light-years).
In October 2018, a participant in the project discovered LSPM J0207+3331, the oldest and coldest known white dwarf to host a circumstellar disk despite being 3 billion years old. The disk consists of two rings at different temperatures. This star has been studied with the Keck telescope and is the object of ongoing research.
As of July 2019, there are 1305 candidate objects to be followed up, of which there are 131 confirmed objects: 70 dwarfs of type T and 61 dwarfs of type L. Of the candidate and confirmed brown dwarfs, 55 of them are closer to the solar system than 20 parsecs. There are also roughly 100 Y dwarf candidates.
- "NASA wants you to help find a new planet". CNN. 16 February 2017. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
- "Hunt for Planet 9: how you can help NASA search for brown dwarfs and low-mass stars". The Christian Science Monitor. 17 February 2017. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
- "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9". nasa.gov. 13 March 2017. Retrieved 24 December 2017.
- Achenbach, Joel; Feltman, Rachel (20 January 2016). "New evidence suggests a ninth planet lurking at the edge of the solar system". The Washington Post. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
- Fortney, Jonathan J.; et al. (2016). "The Hunt for Planet Nine: Atmosphere, Spectra, Evolution, and Detectability". The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 824 (2): L25. arXiv:1604.07424. Bibcode:2016ApJ...824L..25F. doi:10.3847/2041-8205/824/2/L25.
- "We Love You! And Happy Anniversary!". Blog.backyardworlds.org. 14 February 2018. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
- "The Reboot Is Here!". Blog.backyardworlds.org. 16 November 2018. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
- "Our First Paper: the Discovery of Brown Dwarf WISEA 1101+5400". Blog.backyardworlds.org. 8 June 2017. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
- Kuchner, Marc J.; et al. (2017). "The First Brown Dwarf Discovered by the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 Citizen Science Project". The Astrophysical Journal. 841 (2): L19. arXiv:1705.02919. Bibcode:2017ApJ...841L..19K. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/aa7200.
- "Snow White and the Seven New Confirmed Brown Dwarfs". Blog.backyardworlds.org. 22 December 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
- "42 Confirmed Brown Dwarfs and Counting". Blog.backyardworlds.org. 11 July 2018. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
- "The Crystal Ball White Dwarf". Blog.backyardworlds.org. 19 February 2019. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
- "Volunteer Discovers Record-Setting White Dwarf Star". NASA.gov. 19 February 2019. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
- "One Hundred Thirty-One Brown Dwarfs". Blog.backyardworlds.org. 15 July 2019. Retrieved 24 July 2019.