Planet Patrol Wants You

Calling all citizen scientists, Planet Patrol wants you. NASA, SETI, the Space Science Telescope Institute and Zooniverse collaborated to launch Planet Patrol, a website urging citizen scientists to help find exoplanets. Planet Patrol site explains –

“NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission will take pictures of more than a million stars to search for planets orbiting them, called ‘transiting exoplanets.’ We expect this mission will see thousands of these transiting exoplanets when they pass in front of nearby stars and periodically block some of the starlight.

But sometimes when a star dims like that, it’s not because of a planet. Variable stars, eclipsing binary stars, blended stars, glitches in the data, etc., can cause a similar effect. We need your help to spot these imposters!

At Planet Patrol, you’ll help us check the data from the TESS mission, one image at a time, to make sure that objects we suspect are planets REALLY are planets.”

In a nutshell – anyone with a little spare time, set of fresh eyes and impetus to participate in cosmic discovery can be a citizen scientist. How cool would it be to identify a exoplanet? Check out the link below –

Long curving line of varied planets with stars in background.
Scientists have discovered over 4,000 exoplanets so far, of many different kinds, as represented in this artist’s concept. With the public’s help, they should find many more as well. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ R. Hurt (SSC-Caltech).

Read for more details. To date 3,968 citizen scientists are on board. What are you waiting for?

Tabby’s Star

Earlier this year astronomer Tabetha Boyajian sparked a ruckus. Inquiring science minds pondered her TED Talk, a talk naming star KIC 8462852 as “the most mysterious in the universe”.

Dubbed Tabby’s Star, the fuss stems from Tabby’s light behaving oddly. Odd as in astronomers have never seen anything like it. At irregular intervals, for days at a time, light “dims” by as much as 22%.  Science knows it isn’t a planet – the culprit isn’t round, nor does it block light in a discernible pattern.

Tabby’s peculiarities caught the attention of Andrew Siemion. Today, for 8 dedicated hours SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Green Bank radio telescope in Virginia will listen to nothing but Tabby – a cosmic anomaly perplexing enough to warrant investigation of alien life, specifically a Dyson Sphere (linked below)

Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center and co-director of Breakthrough Listen at Berkeley, will also be on hand at Green Bank tonight, helping with the Tabby’s Star observations. He said in a statement:

Everyone, every SETI program telescope, I mean every astronomer that has any kind of telescope in any wavelength that can see Tabby’s star has looked at it. It’s been looked at with Hubble, it’s been looked at with Keck, it’s been looked at in the infrared and radio and high energy, and every possible thing you can imagine, including a whole range of SETI experiments. Nothing has been found.

What can the Green Bank radio telescope bring to the table? Siemion said:

The Green Bank Telescope is the largest fully steerable radio telescope on the planet, and it’s the largest, most sensitive telescope that’s capable of looking at Tabby’s star given its position in the sky. We’ve deployed a fantastic new SETI instrument that connects to that telescope, that can look at many gigahertz of bandwidth simultaneously and many, many billions of different radio channels all at the same time so we can explore the radio spectrum very, very quickly.

He said the results of the Green Bank observations made tonight will not be known for more than a month, because of the massive data analysis required to pick out patterns in the radio emissions.

Artist's concept of cascading comets around a distant star. This scenario is one possible explanation for mystery star KIC 8462852. Image via NASA/JPL/Caltech/Vanderbilt University.

Artist’s concept of cascading comets around a distant star. This scenario is one possible explanation for Tabby’s Star. Image via NASA/JPL/Caltech/Vanderbilt University.

Finder chart for KIC 8462852. It's located in the direction to the constellation Cygnus, which is part of the famous Summer Triangle asterism, visible at this time of year.

Finder chart for Tabby’s Star, aka KIC 8462852. It’s located in the direction to the constellation Cygnus.

Astronomers to observe Tabby’s Star

Pondering Nothing Wow About It

Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope – April 15, 1977. Astronomer Jerry Ehman listened to cosmic static from star systems Chi Sagittarii in constellation Sagittarius. At 10:16 pm Eastern Time Big Ear recorded an inexplicable 72 second burst of radio waves – Ehman circled the anomaly, jotting “Wow!”. 39 years later the strongest cosmic radio signal ever recorded, remains the only unexplained radio signal from space.

Alien 'Wow!' Signal Could Soon be Explained

Enter former U.S. Dept. of Defense analyst Antonio Paris, now of St. Petersburg College in Florida. Paris suspects two “suspicious” comets (266P/Christensen and 335P/Gibbs, not identified until 2006 and 2008) created the “Wow!” kerfuffle. 1420Mhz is the radio frequency behind  Ehman’s “Wow!” Coincidentally, the same frequency neutral hydrogen hums in the cosmos (space is anything but silent – click now to listen ) Logically comets contain a lot of hydrogen, hydrogen Paris theorizes wreaked havoc at 1420Mhz the evening of April 15, 1977. “Wow!”, nothing more than an inadvertent surge of hydrogen courtesy of meddling comets.

Next year 266P will pass Chi Sagittarii, 2018 sees 335P’s orbit following suit. Paris hopes to test his theory but faces some challenges – it seems all radio telescopes are booked. Undaunted, Paris started a crowd funding campaign to buy or build his own telescope. (Linked below)

In wonder of “Wow!”, the possibility of noisy hydrogen annihilating a cornerstone of early cosmic wonder left me a little grumpy. No worries, it took 6 minutes to grow up and jump on science’s band wagon. Kick discovery ass Antonio Paris of St. Petersburg College, I wish you well.