Players of the browser game Planet Hunters have helped in the discovery of two possible new planets outside Earth's solar system.
Since its launch 2009, Nasa's Kepler space telescope has been taking images every thirty seconds of a group of over 150,000 stars near the Cygnus constellation in the hope of finding new habitable planets. It has collected far too much data for the Kepler team to sort through themselves, which is where Planet Hunters' 40,000 registered users come in.
In Planet Hunters, players discover new planets by monitoring the changing brightness of a star over time. As a planet passes in front of a star, there is a dip in the light it emits, with the extent of the dip dictated by the size of the planet.
After some four million games, players have discovered 69 possible new planets, which the Kepler team will now look into in more depth. Each user that helped discover the two planets has been named in the acknowledgements section of a report published in Monthly Notices Of The Royal Astronomical Society.
"While the human brain is exceptionally good at detecting patterns, it is impractical for a single individual to review each of the 150,000 light curves in every quarterly release of the Kepler database," the report reads.
"However, crowd-sourcing this task has appeal because human classifiers have a remarkable ability to recognise archetypes and to assemble groups of similar objects, while disregarding obvious glitches that can trip up computer algorithms."
It's a similar method to that used by Foldit, in which players use spational reasoning and puzzle-solving to recreate the structures of proteins. As we reported last week, players successfully modelled a retroviral protease which could help in the search for a cure for retroviral diseases like AIDS.