A citizen astronomer participate in the United States National Science Foundation–supported Backyard Worlds program reviewed archival data provided by the Community science and data center and found 34 new ultracold dwarf binary systems, nearly double the number of confirmed ultracold dwarf binary systems. The citizen astronomer led a team of astrophysicists in publishing the results in The Astronomical Journal.
Brown dwarfs, larger than the largest planets but smaller than most stars, are difficult to identify due to their low luminosity and small size. A brown dwarf with a companion star is known as a binary. How often stars pair up in binary systems is a question astronomers are struggling to answer, and this time citizen astronomers have stepped in to help.
Thousands of volunteer citizen scientists have been analyzing telescope images for faint brown dwarfs lit by nearby stars, looking for signs of motion that artificial intelligence and machine learning applications can miss.
“The Backyard Worlds project has fostered a diverse community of talented volunteers,” said NSF astronomer Aaron Meisner. NOIRLab program and co-founder of Backyard Worlds. “150,000 volunteers around the world have participated in Backyard Worlds, including a few hundred ‘super users’ who carry out ambitious self-directed research projects.”
Chris Davis, NSF Program Director for NOIRLab, added: “This stunning result clearly demonstrates that NOIRLab’s data archive has a reach far beyond that of professional astronomers. Passionate members of the public can also participate in research peak and directly share the joy of cosmic discovery.”
Information from the findings could help astronomers determine where brown dwarfs lie between small stars and giant planets. In turn, this could lead to a clearer picture of how solar systems evolve.