Disk Detective and Planet Hunters

A few folks have asked us: what’s the relationship between Disk Detective and Planet Hunters? Planet Hunters, of course, is the Zooniverse citizen science website that invites users to examine data from NASA’s Kepler mission to search for extrasolar planets.

The success of Planet Hunters helped inspire us to launch Disk Detective!  But beyond that, there are several scientific connections between the two projects. Both are about extrasolaKepler Field of View Star Chartr planets. As you probably know, in Planet Hunters, users look at measurements of a star’s brightness, checking for sudden dips that could indicate a planet crossing in front of the star (called “transits”).  In Disk Detective, we search for the homes of planets: stars surrounded by disks where planets form and often dwell.

Let’s talk more specifically–about what stars the two projects have in common.  First of all, the data from the WISE mission that we’re examining at Disk Detective covers the whole sky.  So it overlaps with everything, including the part of the sky that Kepler/Planet Hunters has already studied and whatever parts of the sky Kepler will image in the future. Indeed, the part of the sky Kepler has already examined has already been searched for disks at least once; Samantha Lawler and Brett Gladman claimed to find eight debris disks around stars with Kepler planets in 2012, using data from the WISE mission. However, further studies of the Kepler field were unable to replicate this result. The map above illustrates the current Kepler field, mostly located within the constellation of Cygnus.

But there will be more such Kepler/WISE disks for us to find via Disk Detective and Planet Hunters.  For one, both the Kepler and WISE databases have improved substantially since that work was done.  Kepler has found more transiting planets, and WISE scanned the sky again, leading to the new ALLWISE data release this fall.

Moreover, plans are afoot to extend the Kepler mission.  The extended mission, called “K2” will search for planets in a different region of sky, near the plane of the Earth’s orbit. Here at Disk Detectives, we will already be searching that region for disks.  And I’m pretty sure the new K2 data will be searchable at Planet Hunters as well.

So stay tuned–and keep digging for new disks!  You might find one around a star that Kepler has already found planets around, or that it will find planets around soon.  And even if there is not a direct match, we still learn by combining the statistical information from both surveys about how and where planets form.

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important”

Marc Kuchner


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