Recently, I don’t know how long ago, though, the Zoo Universe project, which tries to involve citizens in helping out the professional astronomers sort through data, have added a new project to its list. It is called Planet Hunters. What it does is, it gathers the light curve data of stars (basically, the star’s brightness through time) from the space telescope Kepler and allows us to look at them. The basic premise is that stars have planets (well, duh), and some of those stars might have planets that orbit right in front of the star from our point of view. Those planets block some of the light from the star, thereby dimming it. By looking at the change in brightness in the curve, mainly the dipping of brightness at certain moments in time, one can detect planets, as shown in the picture below:
Of course, things aren’t as simple as that. As you will find out from checking out the web page and the tutorial, data is full of noise. The team behind this project, though, believe that because the human brain is so effective at noticing patterns, that we might be better at detecting these dips in between all of the noise than the machines. Maybe.
Anyways, go ahead and try! Who knows, maybe you might discover a planet.