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61,000 stunning images of space now available to the public

61,000 stunning images of space now available to the public
© Giovanni Triggiani | Dreamstime.com

Man has seemingly been mystified by outer-space since the beginning of time. The thought of what lies beyond our reach is fascinating. This curiosity led the U.S. government to create NASA in the 1950s.

By 1969, we had successfully landed on the moon. But our thirst for knowledge has yet to be quenched.

If you are someone who loves the idea of space exploration, I have great news. A massive star database has been released that will let you help scientists search for exoplanets.

How you can help search for exoplanets

Researchers at MIT and the Carnegie Institute for Science recently released a database of the largest collection of observations made with the radial velocity technique. It's a technique used to search for exoplanets. (Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars outside of our solar system.)

The High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES) was used to take the images. It's mounted on the Keck Observatory's 10-meter telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

HIRES is able to split a star's incoming light into a rainbow of color components. This allows scientists to measure the precise intensity of thousands of color channels, or wavelengths, to determine characteristics of the starlight.

This extensive database, which took over two decades to collect, has been made available to the public. Also released was an open-source software package to process the data, as well as an online tutorial.

The scientists are hoping to bring in fresh eyes to look over the observations, which contain nearly 61,000 measurements of over 1,600 nearby stars.

MIT Fellow Jennifer Burt said, "This is an amazing catalog, and we realized there just aren't enough of us on the team to be doing as much science as could come out of this database. We're trying to shift toward a more community-oriented idea of how we should do science, so that others can access the data and see something interesting."

The researchers have already detected more than 100 potential exoplanets, including one orbiting GJ 411. It's the fourth closest star to our solar system. These potential exoplanets need further inspection, which is where you could come in.

Burt said, "This dataset will slowly grow, and you'll be able to go on and search for whatever star you're interested in and download all the data we've ever taken on it. The dataset includes the date, the velocity we measured, the error on that velocity, and measurements of the star's activity during that observation. Nowadays, with access to public analysis software like Systemic, it's easy to load the data in and start playing with it."

She went on to say, "I think this opens up possibilities for anyone who wants to do this kind of work, whether you're an academic or someone in the general public who's excited about exoplanets. Because really, who doesn't want to discover a planet?"

Click here if you are interested in seeing the dataset. Who knows? Maybe you'll be able to help discover the next exoplanet.

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