Feb 1, 2022

Citizen Science Team Led by High School Student Discovers 16 Brown Dwarfs

Photo of a high school student wearing a bright blue tshirt standing next to a large telescope.
Lead author Tarun Kota, a student at Eastview high school.  (Credit: Tanisha Kota)

Sixteen new brown dwarfs near our Sun found by citizen scientists working on NASA’s Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project were announced in the Astronomical Journal. Many astronomers have searched for such objects over the years, so finding new objects so close to the Sun is surprising. Each one of these finds helps us better understand how common or rare different kinds of objects (stars, brown dwarfs, planets) are. The paper’s lead author is Tarun Kota, a student at Eastview high school, located in Apple Valley, Minnesota.  Citizen scientists Tom Bickle, Paul Beaulieu, Guillaume Colin, Les Hamlet. Jorg Schumann, Christopher Tanner and Dan Caselden are named as co-authors. 

“To find these sixteen objects, I sifted through data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), in a catalog called ‘CatWISE’,” says Kota.  “I used a multitude of analysis tools including WiseView, which is an image blinking tool made by citizen scientist Dan Caselden. The most enriching part of this research experience wasn’t the science -- though that was very fun!” Kota said.  “But rather, it was all the interactions I had with all types of individuals: professional astronomers, citizen scientists, and high schoolers. This entire experience has solidified my interest in being an astronomer and educator in the future.”

If you are interested in helping Kota and the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 team explore the immediate vicinity of the Sun for missing brown dwarfs and maybe even far-flung planets in our own solar system, visit the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 website.

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