Canberra: The Australian National University (ANU) has called on amateur astronomers to help its researchers find a new planet in the Solar System.
The project to find “Planet 9” is led by ANU astrophysicist Dr Brad Tucker, and will require the help of passionate stargazers who could be the first to set eyes on something no human has seen before, Xinhua news agency reported.
“We have the potential to find a new planet in our Solar System that no human has ever seen in our two-million-year history,” Tucker said in a statement released on Monday.
“Planet 9 is predicted to be a super Earth, about 10 times the mass and up to four times the size of our planet. It’s going to be cold and far away, and about 800 times the distance between Earth and the sun. It’s pretty mysterious.”
The ANU project will allow “citizen scientists” to browse hundreds of thousands of images taken by the ANU SkyMapper telescope at Siding Spring. Volunteers are invited to cast an eye over the photos and note any differences, oddities or potential “Planet 9s”.
“It’s actually not that complicated to find Planet 9. It really is spot the difference. Then you just click on the image, mark what is different and we’ll take care of the rest,” Tucker said.
“It will be through all our dedication that we can find Planet 9 and other things that move in space.”
Tucker added that he expects people to also find and identify other mystery objects in space, including asteroids, comets and dwarf planets such as Pluto. He said if anyone finds a unique mystery object, they will be able to name it — however not after themselves.
“If you find an asteroid or dwarf planet, you can’t actually name it after yourself,” Tucker said.
“But you could name it after your wife, brother or sister. We need to follow all of the rules set by the International Astronomical Union.”
The ANU said it would release further details about the search for Planet 9 in coming weeks.