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Help Search for Planets Online - Scientists Invite the Public

Updated on November 13, 2012

A Screenshot from

An image from the Planet Hunters tutorial
An image from the Planet Hunters tutorial | Source

Join the Hunt for Exoplanets

Imagine detecting a planet that was previously unknown to humankind. You can do it -- and no special degree or astrosuit is required.

As a home-based volunteer for Planet Hunters you can evaluate images from the Kepler telescope and alert experts about your discoveries. Volunteers make no specific time commitments; you can spend just a few minutes or get obsessive about the search.

The Kepler Mission: Discover Habitable Planets

The Kepler telescope was launched in 2009 with the mission of discovering Earth-like planets. More than 200 Earth-size planets have already been identified through analyses of Kepler images. Ten of them are believed to be in habitable zones or areas where liquid water might exist. More than 2000 additional "candidate planets" have also been identified! Scientists reason that human observers can detect even more planets that were missed by automated computer analyses.

Who is Behind Planet Hunters?

Planet Hunters is a public project managed by Yale University and Zooniverse, a "citizen science" web portal. Other members of the consortium include the University of Oxford, Chicago's Adler Planetarium and Vizzuality, an organization devoted to "biodiversity, conservation, citizen science and humanitarian response."

The Planet Hunters website uses images of approximately 155,000 stars that were collected with US taxpayer funds.

A sample display of stars and planets from (Click to enlarge)
A sample display of stars and planets from (Click to enlarge) | Source

The Planet Hunter Process

Volunteering to look for planets involves completing a brief tutorial. When a person visits, they're shown a sample image of outer space. They learn to spot bent light, a phenomenon that occurs when planets pass their suns.

If a volunteer notices a dip in light, they can use their cursor to mark the area. The pressure for accuracy isn't intense: For quality control, multiple volunteers study each image.


Volunteers who register with Planet Hunters and find planets will be credited in any scientific papers resulting from their discovery. Sadly though, they won't have the planets named in their honor. Exoplanet names are derived from the stars that they orbit.

The Kepler 22-B Discovery

Scientists discovered one exciting planet, Kepler 22-B, just a few days into studying Kepler data in 2009. This planet is believed to be comparable in size and surface temperature to Earth. Checking it out would be quite a commute though; Kepler 22-B is located 600 light years away. Maybe you'll find a more convenient option.


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    • SantaCruz profile image

      SantaCruz 6 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      Rafken, I just added your hub to this article's links :-).

    • rafken profile image

      rafken 6 years ago from The worlds my oyster

      Well with this and being able to study photos looking for aliens on the Moon, I guess people can no longer complain that they can't take part in a search for life in the universe. Thanks, nice hub

    • SantaCruz profile image

      SantaCruz 6 years ago from Santa Cruz, CA

      Thanks for the feedback, everyone! I'm happy to see the enthusiasm... Maybe someone's next bout of insomnia will lead to a planetary discovery :).

    • point2make profile image

      point2make 6 years ago

      Excellent hub...very informative. I was not aware of this project but I will check it out. Thanks for the info. Voted this hub up!

    • Eliminate Cancer profile image

      Eliminate Cancer 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Wow, this sounds really neat. I think it's quite possible that we will stumble upon another planet with life, but it won't be anything like the life we have on earth. Fascinating hub - thank you!!

    • scottcgruber profile image

      scottcgruber 6 years ago from USA

      Great hub for a great project!