NASA's citizen scientists keep an eye on the sky

From the comfort of his home in Queens, New York, Tony Hoffman is exploring the universe. (Source: CBS)
From the comfort of his home in Queens, New York, Tony Hoffman is exploring the universe. (Source: CBS)
A project called Exoplanet Explorers allows amateurs around the world to access data online from the Kepler Telescope. (Source: CBS)
A project called Exoplanet Explorers allows amateurs around the world to access data online from the Kepler Telescope. (Source: CBS)

(CBS) - NASA is getting some much-needed help exploring the universe from ordinary people around the globe.

From the comfort of his home in Queens, New York, Tony Hoffman is exploring the universe.

"When new data is uploaded I will tend to look at that on a daily basis," Hoffman said.

He is a citizen scientist helping NASA hunt for undiscovered planets.

A project called Exoplanet Explorers allows amateurs around the world to access data online from the Kepler Telescope.

Every three months the spacecraft beams back 100 million new images of our galaxy. They're stored in a computer hub.

Dr. Jessie Christiansen said so much was coming in, overwhelmed scientists turned to the public for help.

"There are man more planets in the data than we can handle as a professional astronomy community."

It paid off. Within the first 48 hours of releasing images online, citizen scientists discovered a new five-planet system.

They found it by viewing hundreds of images of the same spot in space, looking for tiny spots in stars that suggest a planet might be passing by.

"We try to make it easy enough that anyone can do it, and we have people from high school students all the way up to retirees..." Christiansen said.

NASA now says two days of work by their citizen scientists is the equivalent of one full-time researcher working for three years.

It's a labor of love for planet hunters like Tony Hoffman.

"You're working as a team...," he said.

He's hoping the next major discovery might be just a few clicks away.

NASA launched the Kepler Telescope nine years ago. In that time, it's helped discover 2,500 planets.

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