Players of a browser-based game are helping NASA sift through images taken from its Kepler space telescope. Players of the browser game Planet Hunters have helped in the discovery of two possible new planets outside Earth's solar system, so far.
Since its launch in 2009, the Kepler space telescope has been taking images every thirty seconds of a group of over 150,000 stars near the Cygnus constellation. The hope for NASA is that they will find new habitable planets. The biggest problem is that NASA has collected far too much data for the research team to sort through themselves. Luckily they have the power of Planet Hunters' 40,000 registered users to tap into.
In the game players find new planets by monitoring the changing brightness of a star over a period of time. When 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 four million game sessions of Planet Hunters, players have reportedly found 69 possible new planets, which the Kepler team will now look at more closely. The users responsible for discovering the two planets have been honored in the acknowledgements section of the Monthly Notices Of The Royal Astronomical Society. Pretty cool.