"My" Kuiper Belt Objects

From my former blog, posted on April 27th, 2012

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail, with subject:

YOU made an IceHunters KBO discovery

It started like this:

Dear IceHunter,

You found a Kuiper Belt Object! (or several)

(...)

You are getting this email because the IceHunters database lists publishable name for you, and I want to give you a chance to make corrections if needed. The Minor Planets Center will only accept last names and first initials (which we're taking from first names) with discoveries.

The e-mail continued with a list of 401 people who had made similar discoveries. In short: I have discovered an astronomical object and my name will be listed somewhere because of that.

I think that is awesome.

The e-mail was from Explore Zooniverse, the organisation behind IceHunters, a site which lets you look at pictures taken by telescopes, to look for so-called Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), and mark them. KBOs are worlds of ice really far away, beyond the orbit of Pluto. The idea here is humans are far better than computers at identifying this kind of objects in these pictures. To minimize the chance of mistakes, they show every picture to lots of people, and when enough of them mark the same spot in the picture as a possible KBO, an expert looks at them for confirmation.

So a few months back I went through about 4500 of those pictures (it is really addictive) and though I marked 959 as possible KBOs, it now appears that either I identified a grand total of two KBOs correctly, or they only count the first so many people as discoverers. Anyway, the two KBOs I found are called IH294135 and IH294181. Both were identified by 16 people, of which I was one.

The above image is the photo in which IH294135 is marked. As you can see, I had to look for nice snowflake-like dots in a field with lots of background noise, such as stars and their spike-like reflections inside the camera (top right), and other things that I don't recognise. The interface allowed for inverting the colours to enhance contrast. I marked anything that looked like a snowball such as this one, but apparently more things look like that.

Here is the other one. This picture actually contains two confirmed KBOs. The top left is the one I discovered. I can't believe I missed the other one.

I'm not sure what qualifies me as a discoverer of these two, especially since I wasn't the first to identify either of them. IH294135 was already identified twenty minutes before I did, and IH294181 about fifteen minutes earlier. In any case, I can be sure they won't be named after me, so that's not why they need my name. But still, I'm now a discoverer of two astronomical objects, which, again, I think is downright awesome.