University researchers have identified what may potentially be two planets outside of our solar system, thanks to users taking part in an online gaming experiment. A number of organizations, including The University of Oxford and Yale University, set up a browser game called Planet Hunters, which allows players to look through data supplied by the Kepler public archives and search for potential planets. Players are able to observe the light emitted by stars, and seek out periods during which the light curve for particular stars dips in signal, suggesting that a planet may be moving across the face of the star.
The team is then able to use the collected data to search for planets in potential areas, rather than having to sort through over 150,000 individual stars amongst a small group of scientists. Every user who helps to discover a planet is then named in the acknowledgments as part of The Royal Astronomical Society monthly notices.
"Planet Hunters is a new citizen science project, designed to engage the public in an exoplanet search using NASA Kepler public release data," explains the official report [PDF].
"In the first month after launch, users identified two new planet candidates which survived our checks for false-positives."
The team described the involvement of citizen scientists as "a valuable and reliable tool."