Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE)

Citizen Scientists Discover Dozens of New Cosmic Neighbors in NASA Data

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In this illustration, the small white orb represents a white dwarf (a remnant of a long-dead Sun-like star), while the foreground object is its newly discovered brown dwarf companion, spotted by citizen scientists working with a NASA-funded project called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. Image Credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/P. Marenfeld/Acknowledgement: William Pendrill

Using a NASA-designed software program, members of the public helped identify a cache of brown dwarfs – sometimes called failed stars – lurking in our cosmic neighborhood.


We’ve never met some of the Sun’s closest neighbors until now. In a new study, astronomers report the discovery of 95 objects known as brown dwarfs, many within a few dozen light-years of the Sun. They’re well outside the solar system, so don’t experience heat from the Sun, but still inhabit a region astronomers consider our cosmic neighborhood. This collection represents some of the coldest known examples of these objects, which are between the sizes of planets and stars.

Members of the public helped make these discoveries through Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, a NASA-funded citizen science project that is a collaboration between volunteers and professional scientists. Backyard Worlds incorporates data from NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) satellite along with all-sky observations collected between 2010 and 2011 under its previous moniker,WISE. Data from NASA’s retired Spitzer Space Telescope and the facilities of the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab were also instrumental in the analysis.

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Two Bizarre Brown Dwarfs Found With Citizen Scientists’ Help

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This artist’s concept shows a brown dwarf, a ball of gas not massive enough to power itself the way stars do. Despite their name, brown dwarfs would appear magenta or orange-red to the human eye if seen close up. Credit: CC byWilliam Pendrill 


With the help of citizen scientists, astronomers have discovered two highly unusual brown dwarfs, balls of gas that are not massive enough to power themselves the way stars do. 

 Participants in the NASA-funded Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project helped lead scientists to these bizarre objects, using data from NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) satellite along with all-sky observations collected between 2009 and 2011 under its previous moniker, WISE. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is an example of “citizen science,” a collaboration between professional scientists and members of the public. 

Scientists call the newly discovered objects “the first extreme T-type subdwarfs.” They weigh about 75 times the mass of Jupiter and clock in at roughly 10 billion years old. These two objects are the most planetlike brown dwarfs yet seen among the Milky Way’s oldest population of stars. 

 

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