Planet Hunters is a brand new “citizen science” site, like Galaxy Zoo (where participants identify galaxies from images) and Moon Zoo (where participants identify and catalogue craters on the moon) – it literally just went online a few hours ago. This time, your task (should you choose to accept it!) is to look through Kepler science data looking for tell-tale dips in brightness caused by planets transiting across the face of the target stars! (the Kepler spacecraft basically stares at a fixed point in the sky containing hundreds of thousands of stars, and it monitors the brightness of all of them, looking out for dips caused by transiting planets).
It does take a while to get used to the brightness graphs, but you get the hang of it eventually. I’ve already found a couple of known transiting planets (it tells you whether it’s a “Kepler Favourite” or not, which presumably means it’s a known planetary system), correctly identified a simulated planet around a giant star (they throw some simulated data in occasionally to check that you’re finding things properly!).
There might still be a few bugs and issues in the discussion forums, but they’re rapidly getting them sorted out. It’s a brillianty idea and it’s all very exciting – I’ve had a look at 50 systems so far and found a few interesting ones (I’ve collected them here, and I’ll be adding more as time goes on). They also have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed to follow as well!
So here’s a perfect opportunity to join in and contribute to scientific discovery – and who knows, you might even find a planet! Head over to http://www.planethunters.org now and start looking! 🙂