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An intensive three-day search of the solar system by thousands of civilian volunteers has produced four potential candidates who might be the elusive Planet X. The groundbreaking crowdsourced research team has also helped astronomical experts to classify more than four million other objects in the outer reaches of this solar system.
Last year, researchers discovered that several different objects in the Kuiper Belt were behaving very strangely, almost as if they were strongly influenced by a huge celestial body. This suggested that there could be a large planet, approximately the same size of Neptune, on the edge of this solar system, sitting far beyond Pluto. Looking for this planet posed some technical problems for the team as it can be assumed that if such a planet exists it would be around 1000 times fainter than Pluto.
The crowdsourced astronomical search may have discovered Planet X
This meant that scientists would be forced to review a huge amount of old data in order to make new observations. This would have to be done by human beings as computers are less sensitive to detecting anomalies in this kind of imaging than the human eye. However, the amount of data they had to review was significantly more than the team could manage.
In order to tackle this problem, the team crowdsourced for volunteers to help them look for the elusive Planet X. The recruitment drive surpassed all expectations, and eventually, 60,000 civilians lent their eyes to the project which was carried out in conjunction with the Zooniverse citizen science project, the BBC’s Stargazing Live broadcast and the Sliding Spring Observatory at Australian National University. All of the data examined by the volunteers had been taken from the Sliding Spring’s SkyMapper telescope.
At the end of the three-day intensive search, the civilian volunteers had discovered four potential candidates who could be the elusive Planet X. According to Brad Tucker who worked on the project, even if none of these objects turn out to be the mysterious planet the scientific information gleaned in the course of this investigation has been invaluable. “With the help of tens of thousands of dedicated volunteers sifting through hundreds of thousands of images taken by SkyMapper, “he said, “we have achieved four years of scientific analysis in under three days.” Tucker gave a special shout out to one particularly impressive volunteer named Toby Roberts who made 12,000 classifications in the three days that he worked on the project.