“Human enthusiasm is still stronger than a computer”

Illustration of a cool brown dwarf (in the foreground) orbiting a hotter dwarf star.Image NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/M. Garlic

From his laptop, Kiwy tracked 34 very bright stars orbiting another dwarf star. These are called brown dwarfs, and they are not large and heavy enough to have dangerous nuclear reactions inside them. These “failed” stars are so many, but they emit so little light and heat that they are hard to see. Relatively little is known about them—for example, astronomers don’t know if they form in the same way stars do, or are similar to giant planets like Jupiter.

Like tens of thousands of other volunteers around the world, Kiwy has participated in the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 Project. The idea is to look for things in the cosmic backyard in current observations. In doing so, Luxemburger focused on a massive professional catalog in which, by large American telescopes, measurements on about four billion stars and galaxies were taken.

Using various filtering techniques, Kiwy found 2,900 supercool brown dwarfs in it. Then he searched the existing images, taken at different times, of other nearby faint stars moving at exactly the same speed through the universe; Something computer algorithms still struggle with. This joint movement indicates that the two stars formed at the same time, and go through life together – the so-called double stars.

The power of the human mind

In 34 cases, it was spot on: a very cold brown dwarf—sometimes no more than 500 degrees—keeps another hotter (and more massive) dwarf star company. The two stars orbit each other very slowly, at distances of up to tens of billions of kilometers. Since then, accurate measurements of new binary star systems have been made by professional astronomers, but Kiwy single-handedly wrote the first draft of the article announcing the discoveries.

“It’s a great result,” says Frans Sneek of the Leiden Observatory, who was not involved in the research himself. It basically shows that human brains and human enthusiasm are still more powerful than computers. And she’s right about that Citizen world Whoever made the discoveries is actually the first author. By the way, Kiwy previously contributed to two other professional publications.

New discoveries provide a more complete picture of the origin and evolution of the most fascinating stars in the universe. “It seems to me that many of these new discoveries are very interesting for further observations, in order to learn more about these things that are not just a planet but not just a star,” says Snake.

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