by, 25-03-2012 at 05:40 AM (615 Views)
I have been participating in a very geeky, but very fun thing. There is a website called Zooniverse that recruits normal, everyday people to help scientists go through lots of data and do what humans do best, image recognition. There are 20 something projects now, but one just closed and I have been notified that I have found a Kuiper Belt Object! The Kuiper Belt is the space out at the edge of the solar system where lots of icy bodies spend all their cold, dark time. Since Pluto got demoted from being a planet to a minor planet, it is actually a Kuiper Belt Object.
I review 10,000 plus images and found lots of Variable Stars and asteroids and just 1 Kuiper Belt Object! So I get my name listed in the scientific papers that will ensue.
The reason we were looking for Kuiper Belt Objects is because there is a space craft named New Horizons on its way to Pluto to spend a day taking lots and lots of pictures and measurements. No space craft has ever been so close as it will be. Where all the picture viewing comes in is that New Horizons will have plenty of power left to do something else and since it is heading toward the edge of the solar system, the Kuiper Belt is perfect.
But to be as economical as possible, we had to know where to point New Horizons when it is done at Pluto. So thousands and thousands of us have looked at about 50000 pictures and marked what we thought might be the little white blob that would be a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). The vast majority of our sightings were variable stars well outside the solar system, which in itself is useful information. A fair number were asteroids, which are much closer to Earth between Earth and Mars. So the small, cold Kuiper Belt Objects were relatively scarce. Our whole effort was to find interesting scientific objects to inspect that were in the vicinity of Pluto and we have been successful.
It's very exciting! (to me anyway!)