back to article Boffins crowdsource hunt for 'Planet 9'

The Australian National University (ANU) is recruiting citizens to look at hundreds of thousands of images, in case they can find the mooted-but-not-yet-discovered “Planet 9”. The long-dismissed idea that there's an undiscovered planet beyond Pluto was revived in January 2016 when CalTech boffins claimed they'd spotted …

  1. Evil Auditor Silver badge
    Angel

    "...you'll have to find someone else to name it after"

    Easy. My dog found it. He can name it whatever he wants, i.e. except his own name.

    Who wants a planet named after him or her anyway? There are much "better" things I can think of...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy. My dog found it.

      The planet "Woof" is indeed a most interesting object.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Easy. My dog found it.

        You're not Micky Mouse posting as AC are you?

        Now, I know Micky M has a pet dog, but the pooch's name escapes me right now...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "...you'll have to find someone else to name it after"

      If a ninth planet exist - the name will have to be chosen to match the previous eight ones - I'm sure there won't be much choice. Just I guess they wasted too many useful names on asteroids...

      1. Anonymous Custard
        Trollface

        Re: "...you'll have to find someone else to name it after"

        Just cut out the middle-man and call it Planety McPlanetface straight away?

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
          Coat

          Dear Lord, don't temp them !

        2. Mark 85

          Re: "...you'll have to find someone else to name it after"

          And here I was thinking something simple for a name.. like "Chuck"... "Two Buck Chuck" to be precise.

          1. Captain DaFt

            Re: "...you'll have to find someone else to name it after"

            Here, I was thinking we could go with that '50s bad Science Fiction movie classic, Planet X, as in tenth planet, but they had to bollix that up demoting Pluto, didn't they?

            'Planet IX' just doesn't have the glamour to it.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: "...you'll have to find someone else to name it after"

              "'Planet IX' just doesn't have the glamour to it."

              Oh, I don't know.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              'Planet IX' just doesn't have the glamour to it.'

              Let's call it iX - is more fashionable. And if found, let's call it Hesperides, where Golden Apples not made for mere mortals are found.

          2. LionelB Silver badge

            Re: "...you'll have to find someone else to name it after"

            I kind of like "Kevin". No reason.

  2. 0laf Silver badge

    Hurry

    If you could get a move on with this please. I have a 6 year old that needs answers.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Hurry

      Sounds like a good excuse for daddy to buy a load of Lego and make an orrery!

  3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Interesting project, and it is great getting the public involved, but I do wonder: if good old image processing can already highlight moving stuff, how hard should it be to generate candidates automatically? It is fairly easy to compare the position of moving stuff to known objects. No AI needed for that: if the epoch of the observation is known, then the position of known objects can be computed from their orbital parameters. Sometimes these parameters might not allow very precise positions, but we could compensate for that by plotting the uncertainty of the position on the night sky. If an object falls into the region that might be occupied by a known target, and there is no other clear candidate for the known object, provisionally rule it out.

    We also know roughly how fast it should be moving (slow(!) it is far away from the sun) so we can rule out a lot of the unknown objects too. Finally, we have some idea of the brightness (because it is most likely an ice giant with a mass ten times that of earth, and we have a rough guess of the distance). This too will rule out many objects. I would love to write some code to scour these data automatically. Might be a nice student project

    1. Tom Paine

      Exactly what I was going to say (dammit!|) --

      The Register asked Tucker to flesh out why the search isn't using artificial intelligence.

      The answer is "for the same reason they're not using carbon nanofibres or genetic engineering", ie., it's the wrong tool for the job. Image recognition to hunt for unexpected moving objects (automated blink comparison) was likely one of the first things astronomers used computers for once digital imaging became the default.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        The actual website suggests that noise and artifacts are the reason that they aren't using AI. I've looked at sample images, and they are very noisy. I don't know enough about machine vision to know how much trickier that makes the task. Perhaps if Mr Wilkinson could look at the images at get back to us? His past posts are such that I defer to his experience in these matters, but his post today seems to be about tracking objects, and less so about determining what is an object in the first place.

        Perhaps the crowd-sourced efforts can form the basis of a machine trading data set down the road.

      2. Mage Silver badge
        Headmaster

        why the search isn't using artificial intelligence.

        Because AI is 99% marketing and 1% 1980s "Expert Systems".

        There is no "general" AI and successful specific AI is large data sets with human curated rules, and often human created data experts think they understand.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: why the search isn't using artificial intelligence.

          Why would you require General AI for this application, Mage? Limited AI is suitable for pattern recognition within many huge data sets.

          If you think AI hadn't progressed since the 80s, then it is your own learning capabilities you need to re-examine and not the machine kind. Surely you didn't miss the news last year about DeepMind beating the world's best Go player?

          1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
            Coat

            And who has Deep Mind beat at Poker recently ?

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              Ah yes, because the solar system is trying to keep a straight face to better hide its tell.

            2. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. LionelB Silver badge

          Re: why the search isn't using artificial intelligence.

          There is no "general" AI ...

          True, and likely to remain so for the foreseeable.

          ... and successful specific AI is large data sets with human curated rules

          Not so true: successful domain-specific AI these days tends to be human-designed learning algorithms trained on large data sets - really not the same thing. With human-curated rule-based systems you can generally trace precisely how the system arrives at an output. With modern machine learning systems (particularly neural network-based ones) you generally cannot - the internal logic of the trained system (as distinct from the learning algorithm underlying training) is inscrutable. Call it pattern-recognition, if you like, but these are not hard-coded rule-based systems. They tend to be better at generalisation (within their domain).

          Human-curated rule-based systems are still around to some extent (very 1980s), but machine learning (I won't call it AI, if it pleases) has moved on.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      IMHO there will be a lot of false positive. Removing "known" objects it's almost easy, but this kind of search can reveal many unknown ones (which aren't "planet IX"), and there are also "artifacts" which aren't any kind of celestial body. Some trained people are still better than trained AI, and also you can get a large enough distributed system for free.

  4. Paratrooping Parrot
    Coat

    Considering that Pluto was demoted.

    It'll be a fight between Pluto, Goofy, Mickey and Minnie. :p

    1. h4rm0ny
      Alien

      Re: Considering that Pluto was demoted.

      Maybe if they find another planet they should re-use Pluto then all parties will be happy. Plus it will create even more confusion which seemed to be the purpose of trying to redefine Pluto anyway.

      Seriously, "planet" is an arbitrary term. No rocket scientist ever based their slingshot calculations on something being "a planet" rather than, say, 1.3x10^22kg or whatever. The term is a cultural artifact with no useful scientific meaning. It is to astrophysics what the term "race" is to genetics. I.e. a visible thing for non-scientists to get hung up on that is next to useless for any meaningful discussion.

      And as it is a cultural artefact, just let it be a planet given that it always has.

      Now, would anyone like to hear me rant about applying SI metric definitions to MB that are more useful in powers of 2?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Considering that Pluto was demoted.

        "The term is a cultural artifact with no useful scientific meaning."

        If you want to be really pedantic, planet means "wandering star", so that removes all the rocky, icy and non-ihnited gassy things from the catagory.

  5. wolfetone Silver badge
    Headmaster

    It's not "Planet 9". It's Nibiru.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Coat

      Well, that's next week's headline sorted for the Sport:

      DAEWOO CAR FOUND IN KUIPER BELT!!!!

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Subheading: "That'll be the Daewoo"

    2. Brian Souder 1

      Nibiru

      Well lets hope Nibiru does not follow this orbit:

      http://www.crystalinks.com/nibiru.html

    3. Chemical Bob
      Alien

      Planet 9 is Pluto. This is Plant 10, which will not be found as it is in the eighth dimension.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Buckaroo_Banzai_Across_the_8th_Dimension

  6. davenewman

    Isn't Planet 9 an operating system? Or is that plan 9?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Whatever it is, it's from Outer Spaaaaace!

    2. Brian Souder 1

      Planet 9 OS

      Well - with a 10-20k year delivery cycle - it certainly could be.

  7. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "Alas, if you discover Planet 9, you'll have to find someone else to name it after, because the International Astronomical Union doesn't let you name things after yourself."

    Obvious: Planet Claire.

    1. Not That Andrew
      Boffin

      Great minds think alike!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely the choice is obvious

    You'd put the name up for auction. Imagine the bid sizes you could get for an actual Planet Hollywood!

  9. 0laf Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Lets keep everyone happy

    If we reinstate Pluto to its rightful place then the new one can be Planet X.

    Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century icon needed urgently.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lets keep everyone happy

      Split the difference and call it Planet 9.5

      1. stephanh

        Re: Lets keep everyone happy

        Sorry to spoil all the fun, but it is almost certain to not have "cleared the neighborhood", hence the new planet will be considered a dwarf planet, like Pluto. An ice giant dwarf planet, most likely.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Lets keep everyone happy

          Can you expand upon your reasoning? Planet 9 - as inferred from its effects upon other bodies - is hypothesised to have a mass around ten times that of Earth and a highly elliptical orbit. There are quite a few orbits it might have that would satisfy the observations (hence the difficulty in locating it) so how can we yet say it hasn't cleared its neighbourhood?

          1. stephanh

            Re: Lets keep everyone happy

            @Dave 126

            You are right, my "almost certainly" was far too strong. Should have been "possibly". Large size works in favor of clearing out the orbit, but large distance from the Sun works against it. Some possible configurations (far away, not too large) make it into a dwarf planet.

            My personal opinion is that it is likely to be far away and not that large, on the grounds that it otherwise would already have been detected. But that's just one uninformed opinion.

            1. lglethal Silver badge
              Angel

              Re: Lets keep everyone happy

              a "giant dwarf planet"

              so it would have to be called Carrot, then?

              (with respect to the late great Sir Terry)...

              1. Dave 126 Silver badge

                Re: Lets keep everyone happy

                Carrot> Rabbit Well, we're nearly back to the weird rabbit thing that Plan B From Bell Labs has for a logo.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Lets keep everyone happy

              Guess the hypothetical mass and orbit has been calculated from the anomalies found - but it they find a large planet that didn't clear its orbit, it will put a dent in the new definition of planets.

              Detection of a dark, very slow body that far would have not been easy in the past, especially if the orbit inclination is high. Maybe it's already in some images - just not identified as such. If the magnitudo is low, it will be among many, many background stars.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lets keep everyone happy

      Agreed. Now it's time to short the stock of shaving cream manufacturers (due to the impending oversupply).

  10. 45RPM Silver badge

    In memory of the late, great, Douglas Adams…

    …it can only be called Planet Rupert

    Or some such nonsense after a mythical character. Planet God?

    Suit yourselves!

  11. creepy gecko
    Trollface

    Is the hunt for Planet Nine led by Boffins or Astroboffins?

    Pedants need to know.

  12. Jungleland

    If a Reg Reader finds it

    Wasn't there an Ancient Egyptian god/ess based on a Vulture?

  13. Moog42

    Surely

    Planet McPlanet Face?

    I'll get my coat.

  14. ArrZarr Silver badge

    The nine planets of the solar system:

    1: Mercury

    2: Venus

    3: Earth

    4: Mars

    5: Jupiter

    6: Saturn

    7: Uranus

    8: Neptune

    9: Tehn

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      9: Tehn

      But then would it be nine or Tehn?

      1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

        "But then would it be nine or Tehn?"

        And if it is, would Red Lectroids decide to destroy the Earth?

  15. DJV Silver badge

    “There are so many possible ways this object could be moving”

    Are the macarena, the twist and dad dancing possible options?

  16. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Planet Nine from Outer Space.

    1. Mark 85

      Where is Bela Lugosi when we really need him?

  17. JennyZ

    Just watch out for Red Lectroids...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Coat

      You can get cream for them nowadays.

  18. Anonymous C0ward
    Childcatcher

    Australian National University

    ... Sydney?

    Or am I the only one immature enough to notice the possible acronym here.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Australian National University

      And the astronomy department is studying Uranus?

  19. Sam Therapy

    Just so long as it's not Telos or Mondas I ain't too worried.

  20. John Gamble
    Coat

    And Its Moon Would Be Called Nithon

    Hmm, very surprised to not see Yuggoth suggested thus far.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And Its Moon Would Be Called Nithon

      One day, I hope to see "Yuggoth Yoghurt" in the grocery store.

  21. kryptonaut

    You better wise up...

    I vote for Planet Schmanet Janet

    1. Swarthy

      Re: You better wise up...

      Dammit!

      Only if it has a moon named Brad.

  22. MajorTom

    Live long...

    Vulcan.

    Fits with the other Roman gods. Also, there's the obvious SF angle.

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