I have mentioned these kinds of things in the past, but I think it's good to reiterate, especially if you are a newer reader. I also like encouraging people to be involved in science and understanding the world around them. So, with the Planet Hunters site turning 6 months old, now is a great time to remind people that they can participate in making real discoveries.
Planet Hunters is part of the Zooniverse. According to their about page, "The Zooniverse is home to the internet's largest, most popular and most successful citizen science projects." The projects hosted include Galaxy Zoo, Moon Zoo, the Milky Way Project, of course Planet Hunters, and a couple others. For the most part these are all astronomy projects, and generally presented in a fun and interesting way to public to learn and make discoveries with.
For instance, Planet Hunters has found about 70 candidate systems for exo-planets. Candidates because they still have to confirmed by follow up observations to ensure they are real. But for the most part, these are likely real planets around other stars. This data comes from NASA's Kepler space telescope. There was so much data that researchers couldn't possibly go through it all, so they released it to the public for their aid.
So, now people like you can go online and, with minimal training, start hunting through Kepler data for exo-planets. It's one of those things, that once you start, you kinda get drawn into it. You will tell yourself one more, and 10 minutes later still be sitting there. It is also nice to feel like you are contributing to science. The best part is, if you find a planet, you get credited with its discovery. This is only something a handful of people on the Earth can claim to have done, discover a planet.
The other Zooniverse projects work much the same way. They use data from other great sources like the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the STEREO spacecraft (two of them observe the Sun), and other world class telescopes. And again, the reasoning for why they NEED you is because there is such an overwhelming amount of scientific data that researchers just can't go through the piles and piles of it.
|Artist Concept of the Spitzer Space Telescope (NASA)|
Space is huge. We all know that, so the more people that take a couple of minutes to lend a hand, the more we learn about the Universe. It also increases the number of people who have knowledge of this science, a better educated world. You can really learn a few things about astronomy from participating in these projects. It really is win-win, so go be a citizen scientist!
The thing with Planet Hunters being 6 months old though is that this week they're giving you the chance to ask just about anything of the project's scientists and developers. You can ask questions via Planet Hunters Talk at http://talk.planethunters.org/