EVE Fanfest 2017: EVE Online joins the hunt for exoplanets through Project Discovery

The scientific community has been buzzing lately with the incredible news that a star system less than 40 lightyears away named TRAPPIST-1 was found to contain seven rocky planets of similar size to Earth. Three of the planets are in the star’s habitable zone, the narrow orbital band in which water should be found in a liquid state and so life may be possible. TRAPPIST-1 has fired the imaginations of the general public, who have been getting involved directly in the search for new exoplanets via crowdsourcing initiatives such as the Exoplanet Explorers project on Zooniverse.

At EVE Fanfest 2017, it was announced that that players of MMO EVE Online will soon be joining the great exoplanet hunt too through an interesting new mini-game that challenges players to find elusive planetary transits in data from telescopes around the world. Developed in collaboration with citizen science company MMOS, the University of Reykjavik, and the University of Geneva, the task will come to EVE as a Project Discovery mini-game with a variety of in-game rewards. It’s pretty exciting to think that players waging war over planets around other stars in a virtual universe will soon be finding them in the real world.

Read on to find out how exactly we find planets around other stars, and how this is going to be integrated with EVE Online.

How do we find exoplanets?

The planets around TRAPPIST-1a were found using the transit method, in which the small but measurable dip in light intensity from a star is measured when a planet passes in front of it. This method only works if the planetary disc happens to line up between the host star and our own star system, and the dip in light levels that will be measured can be less than 1% of the star’s brightness. The advantage to using the transit method is that telescopes can collect brightness data for millions of stars very easily, producing a vast library of information to sift through.

Analysing the light curves for all of those stars for the tell-tale symmetrical dip of an exoplanet is a colossal undertaking, and even the best computer analysis techniques can miss potential candidates. That’s where citizen science comes in, with people all around the world inspecting and classifying the light curves by eye and trying to find the signal of a planet in some very noisy data. The human brain is naturally incredibly good at pattern-matching and picking a signal out from noise, and so far people all across the world have helped to find hundreds of exoplanets that computers might have missed. Participants in these crowd-science schemes have found some interesting star systems and a few odd aberrations in the data that wouldn’t be detected by computer analysis, flagging them up for further investigation.

Project Discovery in EVE Online:

Last year’s first iteration of Project Discovery helped to classify images for the Human Protein Atlas, which used immunofluourescence to produce millions of images showing where particular proteins are expressed in various human cells. The mini-game asked players to identify which cell structures were lit up in the image in order to figure out where each protein is expressed and build up a virtual map of human protein expression. This scheme was hugely successful, with EVE players generating over 25 million image classifications within the first three weeks.

The new minigame presents players with recorded light data for a star and asks them to identify any periodic dips that may be transiting planets. Complicating factors such as normal stellar activity, multiple planet transits, and the fact that many star systems are binary systems can make it difficult to find these dips. Players will have access to a set of tools to help them eliminate the noise and find locate potential exoplanet transits, but it will be the scientists at the University of Geneva who will follow up on each star once players have reached a strong consensus on the results. The team at Geneva will be joined by professor Michel Mayor, one of the winners of the 2017 Wolf Prize for Physics for the discovery of the first exoplanet.

Massively Overpowered is on the ground in Reykjavik, Iceland, for EVE Fanfest 2017, bringing you expert coverage from EVE, Valkyrie, Gunjack, and everything else CCP has up its sleeve!
Disclosure: In accordance with Massively OP’s ethics policy, we must disclose that CCP paid for our writer’s travel to and accommodation at this event. CCP has neither requested nor been granted any control or influence over our coverage of the event. A billion ISK for the first person to discover the wormhole to New Eden!
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BalsBigBrother

I loved the idea of the Human Protein Atlas mini game in EVE but sadly my poor eyesight prevented me from fully taking part in it. I will be interested to see how the next one pans out.

I wonder if I could get away with:

“Sorry I can’t come into work today I have some important scientific work to carry out for the University of Geneva”

*Launches EVE Online* :-)

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