NASA’s ‘Disk Detectives’ find a million potential space habitats

In less than a year, citizen scientists using NASA-sponsored website have logged one million

classifications of potential debris disks and disks surrounding young stellar objects (YSO).

A YSO disk is less than five million years old, contains large quantities of gas and is often found in or near young star clusters.

This data will help provide a crucial set of targets for future planet-hunting missions.

“This is absolutely mind-boggling. We have already broken new ground with the data and we are hugely grateful to everyone who has contributed to Disk Detective so far,” said Marc Kuchner, astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Young stellar objects (YSO)
The marked asymmetry of the debris disk around the star HD 181327 suggests it may have formed as a result of the collision of two small bodies. The Disk Detective project aims to discover many other stellar disks using volunteer classifications of data from NASA’s WISE mission. Image credit: NASA/ESA/Univ. of Arizona/HST/GO 12228 Team
Some 28,000 visitors around the world have participated in the project till date.

What is more, volunteers have translated the site into eight foreign languages, including Romanian, Mandarin and Bahasa and have produced their own video tutorials on using it.

According to Kuchner, the project has so far netted 478 objects of interest, which the team is investigating with a variety of ground-based telescopes in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

“We now have at least 37 solid new disk candidates, and we haven’t even looked at all the new telescope data yet,” he noted.

Combing through objects identified by the space agency’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, Disk Detective aims to find two types of developing planetary environments: the YSO disk and the second planetary habitat known as a debris disk.

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