First theorized to exist last year, Planet Nine is thought to be a Neptune-sized world that’s lurking at the edge of the Solar System. Citizen scientists are now encouraged to join the hunt through a new project on the Zooniverse website.
A similar project called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has been running since earlier this year, using NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) to cover the northern skies. Now, astronomers at the Australian National University (ANU) are inviting people to study images from its SkyMapper telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia to cover the south.
There are thousands of images to study and look for bright dots moving, which may be indicative of hidden planets or failed stars like brown dwarfs. The project is also expected to find other objects like asteroids, comets, and dwarf planets. All the attention will likely be on Planet Nine, though.
“We have the potential to find a new planet in our Solar System that no human has ever seen in our two-million-year history," said Dr Brad Tucker from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics in a statement.
“Planet Nine is predicted to be a super Earth, about 10 times the mass and up to four times the size of our planet. It's going to be cold and far away, and about 800 times the distance between Earth and the Sun. It's pretty mysterious.”
Excitingly, if you are involved in finding an object, you can also be involved in naming it. However, speaking to BBC News, Dr Tucker said: “I do not want Planet McPlanetface. As much as I like Boaty McBoatface, we won't allow that as an option.” Sorry if you had your heart set on that.
The project is going to be launched on BBC Two’s Stargazing Live television show tonight at 8pm BST in the UK, hosted by Professor Brian Cox (whom we recently interviewed). So if you want to get involved in some actual science, why not give it a go.