Archives For Zooniverse


We recently posted news of a Planet Hunters planet discovered as part of a seven-planet system. Like all the Planet Hunters stars this is one seen in data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. Dubbed Kepler-90 this system is a peculiar microcosm of our own Solar System, with small (probably rocky) worlds in the middle, and larger (probably gaseous) worlds on the outside. The major different being that the outermost planet in this system is as far from the star as Earth is from the Sun. The other six planets in this system were already known about, but thanks to volunteers on Planet Hunters ( we now think that there are seven worlds circling this stars, which is just a little brighter than our Sun.

New PH Planet

To celebrate this fact I have created a model of the whole planetary system in Celestia, an awesome, cross-platform, open-source package that lets you explore space. You can download the Celestia files model directly here or watch the video below to be taken on a tour of Kepler-90 and it’s seven worlds.

In this video, I’ve given the newly discovered Planet Hunters candidate some fetching green rings – which we do not have any evidence for or against. Also keep in mind that we know very little about what most exoplanets look like, so we’ve used artistic license to give them all different appearances, often using the surface of what might be analogue worlds in our Solar System. Maybe you can spot some familiar surfaces amongst them!

This system has some great features that make it interesting. The outermost world is roughly the the size of Jupiter but orbits at almost exactly the Earth-Sun distance of 1AU. A Jupiter-like world in an Earth-like orbit has been seen before in Planet Hunters discoveries. The middle planet in this system is at the same distance from this star as Mercury is from our Sun, but is six times as large. The rest of the planets whizz around in even smaller orbits. This star is a little hotter than our Sun so they are pretty scorching places with surfaces temperatures in the hundreds of degrees – nearly a thousand for the innermost planets.

Inner System of KOI-351

The two innermost planets are roughly Earth sized and are really cool. The innermost one is 1.02x the diameter of Earth and the next is 1.18x. We assume that they are both rocky since they are so small. They orbit the star in just 7 days and 9 days respectively and are very close together. So close in fact that if you’re living on the inner, smaller planet then every few weeks, for about a week, the second planet appears in the sky about half the size of our full Moon.

Every year I see the rumour going round that Mars is going to be as big as the full moon. It will never happen for us – but on the tiny worlds circling Kepler-90, it happens all the time.

Update: The system used to be called KOI-351 but was given the name Kepler-90 just a day after this post went live. I have updated the name of the system in the text.

[Cross-posted on the Planet Hunters blog]

UNAWE's Citizen Science Astronomy Projects Poster - CAP conference 2013

This is a poster from CAP2013, which  am attending in Warsaw. Love the idea and the design. Follow @UNAWE on Twitter and find them online at

I was at RAL today, as part of a teacher training event run by the National Space Academy, to talk about the Zooniverse and how our projects can be used to teach astronomy, science and maths.

I gave an overview of the Zooniverse, and then highlighted ZooTeach, the dedicated website where teachers and educators can create and share lesson plans, centred around the Zooniverse citizen science websites.

ZooTeach is great and will only get better as more teachers know about it and use it. Check it out at and follow on Twitter at @ZooTeach.

The 3Rs: Citizen science in the classroom

Planet Four

January 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

Tonight is the start of the 2013 round of the wonderful BBC Stargazing Live. three nights of primetime astronomy programmes, hosted live from the iconic Jodrell Bank. Last year the Zooniverse asked the Stargazing Live viewers to find an exoplanet via Planet Hunters (and they did!). This year we want everyone to scour the surface of Mars on our brand new site: Planet Four.

Every Spring on Mars geysers of melting dry ice erupt through the planet’s ice cap and create ‘fans’ on the surface of the Red Planet. These fans can tell us a great deal about the climate and surface of Mars. Using amazing high-resolution imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) researchers have spent months manually marking and measuring the fans to try and create a wind map of the Martian surface, amongst other things. They’ve now teamed up with the Zooniverse to launch Planet Four, where everyone can help measure the fans and explore the surface of Mars.


The task on Planet Four is to find and mark ‘fans’, which usually spear as dark smudges on the Martian surface. These are temporary features and they tell you about the wind speed and direction on Mars as they were formed. They are created by CO2 geysers erupting through the surface as the temperature increases during Martian Spring. These geysers of rapidly sublimating material sweep along dust as they go, leaving behind a trail.


The fans are just one feature that you’ll see. The image above shows some great ‘spiders’, with frost around their edges. There’s lots to see, and hopefully the audience of Stargazing Live will help us blast through the data really quickly.

Stargazing Live begins at 8pm on BBC2. If you can’t watch it live then why not hop onto Twitter and follow the #bbcstargazing hashtag? You’ll also find me, Planet Four and the Zooniverse on Twitter as well.

The Andromeda Project

December 11, 2012 — Leave a comment

Last week we launched a brand new Zooniverse site: The Andromeda Project. We’re asking people to spot star clusters in the Andromeda galaxy in data from the Hubble Space Telescope. You might think it sounds like menial work but it’s strangely addictive –  and incredibly useful for the researchers behind the data.

This project joins The Milky Way Project and Whale FM as a collection of Zooniverse sites that I have been a lead developer on. Amit Kapadia was the other lead for Andromeda and we’re pretty pleased with the result: check it out at

The Zooniverse strives to take so-called data deluge problems and turn them on their head, creating awesome websites where the public can do the grunt work – only it’s fun! Many Zooniverse projects take a task that would once have been done by a lowly grad student for months or years – and frees them up to do the more complex data reduction and analysis tasks. Spotting star clusters in Andromeda requires no special training – just a few examples and some enthusiasm. In this way we (the Zooniverse) try and crowdsource many problems, from classifying galaxies by their shape, to listening the bat calls. You can see all the current projects at

The Andromeda Project launched as part of the Zooniverse Advent Calendar, which began with our new publications page. This page shows the growing collection of peer-reviewed papers that result from Zooniverse volunteers clicking on our various sites. These papers are the whole point: all Zooniverse projects aim to produce real science results, offering the chance for anyone to be involved in science.

Andromeda is going well: with nearly 600,000 classifications performed already: a task that would have taken a researcher years! All this in less than a week. As I write this, the community of 8,000 users that has amassed around the project is currently classifiying images at a rate of 1 per second!

If you want to join in, take a look at

[Image Credit: Robert Gendler]

The Milky Way Project: A statistical study of massive star formation associated with infrared bubbles

Whale FM

November 29, 2011 — Leave a comment

Today saw the launch of a website I have been working on for the past few months: Whale FM. This project is attempting to crowd source the work of pairing up more than 16,000 unique whale calls. The sound shave been recorded by various teams around the world and chopped up into distinct calls – think of them like words – of whale communication.

On the site, you listen to sounds and then try to find the best match from a selection the computer has selected from the catalogue. We aim to build up a large web of whale communication, marking sounds which are alike and then use this map to decode what whales are saying. It’s a long way from my usual work in astrophysics!

The calls currently featured on the site come from Killer Whales and Pilot Whales (both actually types of dolphin!) and were recorded using either microphones underwater, or using suction-cup tags that are attached briefly to whales as they swim past teams of marine biologists.

The task will help us understand how whales communicate the location of food for example, or danger. Previous studies have shown that different pods of whales have different dialects or accents – much like people do! The work produced by Whale FM will also further our understanding in this area.

This new citizen science project is a collaboration between the ZooniverseScientific American, and with several marine biologists around the world. Visit Whale FM and follow us on Twitter @whalefm.