Feeds

Web surfers stumble upon new planets

Amateur astronomers sift Kepler satellite data

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Humans have leap-frogged computers by identifying planets outside our solar system that the machines missed. The internet users detected the rocky Earth-like planets in their spare time by scanning the data from the Kepler satellite on the site PlanetHunters.

Astronomers at Yale University have announced the discovery of the first two potential exoplanets discovered by Planet Hunters users in a new study to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

It's a big success for the online project which has only been running 10 months since last December, and has 40,000 members.

The site makes use of the one area where humans have a big advantage over computers – pattern recognition.

As Yale astrophysicist Kevin Schawinski puts it "a computer can only look for what you teach it to look for". By contrast, humans, even ones just filling in some time on the internet, are much better at spotting anomalies and unusual features in patterns.

The members of PlanetHunters evaluate different graphs of the light patterns emitted by stars. Dips in brightness can suggest a planet passing over the the face of the star – an occurrence that appears as a trough in a brightness graph. Users flag up odd occurrences for further investigation.

The brightness data is collected by the Kepler satellite – launched by NASA in 2009 to discover planets beyond our own solar system. It has found 1200 candidates for possible planets so far and will follow up on the most promising ones.

Kevin Schawinski described the network of volunteers as a distributed supercomputer: "We've essentially built the world's largest distributed supercomputer, dedicated to pattern recognition. We've linked up over 300,000 human brains and turned it into a science machine."

The two planets picked up by PlanetHunters had initially been discarded by the computers, before the users of the site suggested them for reconsideration.

Yale scientists described the two planets discovered as 2.5 and 8.5 times bigger than the Earth with much shorter orbits – taking only 10 to 50 days to orbit their stars. It is believed one of the planets is a rocky planet like the Earth, though the other may be a gas giant. Neither are believed to be in the so-called "habitable zone" where liquid water – and therefore life as we know it – could exist.

As new data is turned over to PlanetHunters, new discoveries are expected. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Getting ahead of the compliance curve
Learn about new services that make it easy to discover and manage certificates across the enterprise and how to get ahead of the compliance curve.