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Attention Citizen Planet Hunters! Kepler Data Available

An artist’s illustration of PH1, a planet discovered by volunteers from the Planet Hunters citizen science project. PH1, shown in the foreground, is the first reported case of a planet orbiting a double-star that, in turn, is orbited by a second distant pair of stars. The phenomenon is called a circumbinary planet in a four-star system. Image Credit: Haven Giguere/Yale

Over the past three years the NASA Kepler spacecraft and the project’s science team have discovered 77 confirmed planets and 2,321 planet candidates.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. has announced all of Kepler’s upcoming observations will be no longer exclusive to the Kepler science team, its guest observers, and its asteroseismology consortium members…and will be available immediately to the public.

Asteroseismology is the study of the internal structure of stars through the interpretation of their pulsation periods.

As of Oct. 28, 2012, every observation from the extrasolar planet survey made by Kepler since its launch in 2009 through June 27, 2012, is available to scientists and the public.

This treasure-trove contains more than 16 terabytes of data and is housed at the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes, or MAST, at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

MAST is a huge data archive containing astronomical observations from 16 NASA space astronomy missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope. It is named in honor of Maryland U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski.

Citizen scientists

There is far more data in the Kepler archives than astronomers have time to analyze quickly.

Avid volunteer astronomers are invited to make Kepler discoveries by perusing the archive through a website called “Planet Hunters.”

A tutorial informs citizen scientists how to analyze the Kepler data, so they may assist with the research.

Visitors to the website cannot actually see individual planets. Instead, they look for the effects of planets as they sweep across the face of their parent stars. Volunteer scientists have analyzed over 14 million observations so far.

BTW: Just last week, citizen scientists announced the discovery of the first planet to be found in a quadruple-star system.

So happy hunting…and to begin your quest, go to:

By Leonard David via STScI


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