Video explaining the new project. Image Credit: Australian National University

Scientists want you to help them find Planet 9

  • BY AG Staff |
  • March 27, 2017

A new project could allow a citizen scientist to lay claim to the first new planet discovered in our Solar System in over 150 years.

THE BRAGGING RIGHTS would be literally astronomical – becoming the first person to discover a new planet in our Solar System in over 150 years. And as of today, a new Australian project is giving anyone with an internet connection that opportunity.

Early last year, researchers made the tantalising announcement that they'd found evidence of an enormous ninth planet at the outer edge of our Solar System.

Dubbed 'Planet 9' the mysterious planet is thought to have a mass 10 times that of Earth and orbit, on average, around 20 times farther from the Sun than Neptune, the farthest known planet of the eight that we currently know of orbiting our Sun. 

However, the existence of this mysterious 'Planet 9' remains based on computer and mathematical models - and scientists are inviting armchair astronomers to help in their effort to confirm its existence. It would be the first new planet discovered in our Solar System since Neptune was observed in over 150 years.

Today, astronomers from Australian National University in Canberra invited anyone around the world with access to the Internet to join the search for Planet 9.

“We have the potential to find a new planet in our Solar System that no human has ever seen in our two-million-year history,” said ANU astrophysicist Dr Brad Tucker, who is leading the project.

Spot the difference

The ANU Project will allow citizen scientists to user a website to search hundreds of thousands of images taken by the ANU SkyMapper telescope of Siding Spring Observatory. SkyMapper is a 1.3m telescope that is creating a full record of the southern sky, which is relatively unexplored, for Australian astronomers.

SkyMapper will take 36 images of each part of the southern sky and identify changes occurring within the Universe. Finding Planet 9 will involve citizen volunteers scanning the SkyMapper images online to look for differences.

“It’s actually not that complicated to find Planet 9," said Brad. “It really is spot the difference. Then you just click on the image, mark what is different and we’ll take care of the rest.”

The project is being launched by Professor Brian Cox during a BBC Stargazing Live broadcast from Siding Spring.

Brad said citizen scientists may discover other objects during the search, such as asteroids, coments and dwarf planets. While you won't be able to name any discoveries after yourself, you can name them after your wife, brother or sister, for example. “We need to follow all of the rules set by the International Astronomical Union,” said Brad.

You can participate in the ANU citizen science project to search for Planet 9 here: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/skymap/hunt-for-planet-9