The internet allows professionals to make their data available for analysis by anyone, and some are happy to take advantage of the free labour this promises. This approach has proved particularly fruitful in astronomy, a science with a long history of amateur contributions. Armchair astronomers have already helped classify galaxies seen by Hubble, the main orbiting telescope of America’s space agency, NASA. They have also looked for interesting asteroids, and kept an eye out for solar storms.
The latest project to involve them, called Planet Hunters, allows amateurs to search for extrasolar planets—those that orbit stars other than the sun. It was set up by a group at the universities of Oxford and Yale, and links 40,000 participants with data gathered by Kepler, another NASA space telescope that is specifically designed to hunt for planets. On September 26th the group announced, in a paper posted to arXiv, an online database, that its participants had discovered two probable exoplanets, one a Jupiter-like gas giant, and the other, possibly, a smaller, rocky world about twice the diameter of Earth.
Another example how crowdsourcing helps ecological research!