Although baffled as to how Planet Nine came to be, and where it is located, leading astronomers overwhelmingly believe such a celestial body exists — perhaps somewhere beyond eighth planet Neptune and former planet Pluto, in the Kuiper Belt, a ring of rocky asteroids and dwarves.
This would place the Neptune-mass planet in elliptical orbit 10-times farther from the Sun than Pluto — and may mean it was not originally born of the Earth's solar system, but at some point drifted too close to the Sun and was ensnared by gravity.
We need you! Help us find a planet hiding at the edge of our solar system #PlanetNine #citizenscience #bbcstargazing https://t.co/ftBPa9vjtC pic.twitter.com/p3l78Q6oTc— Science at ANU (@scienceANU) March 26, 2017
It has been speculated that finding Planet Nine — or Planet X, as some who deny the demotion of Pluto refer to it — could take decades. However, ANU researchers are determined to speed up the discovery, and have decided to enlist the public's help, in a campaign published on Zooniverse — Backyard Worlds: Planet 9.
Last night Siding Spring Observatory came alive as we prepared to launch the search for the 9th planet in our solar system #Planet9 pic.twitter.com/D8wwcKZRpc— Science at ANU (@scienceANU) March 28, 2017
Motivated by the belief that if a ninth planet does exist, it will already have been captured in at least one of the images their Siding Spring Observatory robotic telescope has taken, volunteers are charged with identifying potentially interesting objects in small, noise-filled images of the southern sky.
Any enthusiastic cosmic discoverer can simply visit the website, create an account, and start scanning the snaps in short bursts. With hundreds of thousands of images to get through, the team needs all the help they can get.
The team estimate users will find a "known high proper motion object" an average of once per 60 slides — although such elements are merely what's already known about. Discovering something new in the images requires real dedication, although if nothing is found in 100 slides, volunteers might be going too fast.
"Take your time, stare at each of the artifacts to see if it dances around differently than the others, and make sure the brightness of your monitor is turned all the way up. It may help to mentally divide the images into four quadrants and stare at one quadrant at a time while the animation plays. And remember, even if you don't find anything, your classifications are still useful; they are telling us about how common or rare brown dwarfs are and how to narrow down future searches for planet nine," the team state.
Any amateur interplanetary cartographers who help the team in their quest will have a role in naming the new planet — although there are certain restrictions on what the planet can be called. For instance, Planety McPlanetyface is completely off the cards.