Your Eyes Could Find a Destination for NASA Probe
NASA’s New Horizon’s probe is currently hurtling toward Pluto at incredible speeds, but what happens after it gets there is still an open topic. After completing the first flyby of distant not-quite-a-planet Pluto, New Horizons will have enough fuel left over to take a stroll through the Kuiper Belt. NASA mission planners are considering making a visit to one, maybe two, of the objects in this distant field of rocky debris.
To help provide data for mission planners, citizen-science instigator Zooniverse wants to bring you (yes, you!) into the search for possible targets. The project is called Icehunters, and it invites users to help ferret out icy objects that would be worth a look. Like other citizen science projects from Zooniverse, the idea is that humans are simply better and more efficient at identifying objects in messy data.
And the data is messy. Using multiple images from telescopes, scientists create “difference” images which are intended to remove background stars making it easier to spot shiny, icy objects. But the difference images still aren’t very clear, and are full of weird pixelated jumbles. This is where the humans come in: Users can log into the site, or work anonymously, and identify the bright “blobs” that may be ice-covered Kuiper Belt object. The site is dead-simple, and comes with numerous examples to help would-be icehunters get started.
Using this data, Zooniverse hopes to provide NASA with more data on which to base decisions about a possible Kuiper Belt visit. But after even after all that, New Horizon’s mission may continue. After its fuel is finally expended, New Horizons will follow in the footsteps of the Voyager probe and head out of the solar system to points unknown.