• NASA is asking citizens to sift through photos to try and identify new exoplanets.
  • While an algorithm could be developed to carry out this task, scientists are finding the human eye to be more effective.
  • This process means scientists can focus their efforts away from sorting through mountains of data themselves.

NASA just launched a new citizen science project — it wants the public’s help to find and identify brand new exoplanets.

The newly-formed Planet Patrol asks volunteers to look over images taken by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), Space.com reports, in which NASA suspects but isn’t sure whether there’s a new exoplanet hidden away. That way, NASA scientists can focus their efforts instead of sorting through the mountain of data themselves

Human Touch

This is the sort of work that technically could be automated with an algorithm trained to spot new worlds, Space.com reports. But it turns out that in this case, there’s no substitute for human judgment.

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A 3D model of the TESS spacecraft.
Image: NASA

“Automated methods of processing TESS data sometimes fail to catch imposters that look like exoplanets,” Veselin Kostov, the NASA researcher leading the Planet Patrol project, said in a press release. “The human eye is extremely good at spotting such imposters, and we need citizen scientists to help us distinguish between the lookalikes and genuine planets.”

Crowded Space

Planet Patrol isn’t the only citizen science project poring over TESS data for signs of exoplanets, Space.com reports. Another initiative, Planet Hunters TESS, is working toward the same goal but analyzing the data in a different way.

“We’re all swimming through the same sea of data, just using different strokes,” NASA citizen science officer Marc Kuchner said in the release.