‘Disk Detective’ Needs Your Help Finding Disks Where Planets Form


Members of the public can help scientists learn how planets form by sifting through data from NASA’s WISE mission, managed by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


Planets form from gas and dust particles swirling around baby stars in enormous spinning disks. But because this process takes millions of years, scientists can only learn about these disks by finding and studying a lot of different examples.

Through a project called Disk Detective, you can help. Anyone, regardless of background or prior knowledge, can assist scientists in figuring out the mysteries of planet formation. Disk Detective is an example of citizen science, a collaboration between professional scientists and members of the public.

“We’re trying to understand how long it takes for planets to form,” said astrophysicist Marc Kuchner, the Disk Detective project lead at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Citizen Science Officer for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Tracing the evolution of these disks is the main way that we know how long planet formation takes.”

Disk Detective has just relaunched with a new website and a new dataset of about 150,000 stars. This new version of the project focuses on M dwarfs, which represent the most common type of star in the Milky Way galaxy. It also concentrates on brown dwarfs, which are balls of gas that don’t burn hydrogen the way stars do and often more closely resemble giant planets like Jupiter.

After reading the instructions, participants can start identifying disks right away in Disk Detective. The interface presents a series of real astronomical images and asks visitors questions that will help determine more definitively if a disk is present. The images come from NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), which now operates as NEOWISE, as well as the ground-based Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii and the NASA-funded Two Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS), which operated from 1997 to 2001.

“We have multiple citizen scientists look at each object, give their own independent opinion, and trust the wisdom of the crowd to decide what things are probably galaxies and what things are probably stars with disks around them,” said Disk Detective’s director, Steven Silverberg, a postdoctoral researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

Advanced users learn more about the objects they’re studying using professional data archives. Those who contribute substantial insight receive credit on scientific papers describing the discoveries made through Disk Detective’s efforts. Professional scientists then follow up on citizen scientists’ input using more sophisticated tools and new observations. Fifteen citizen scientists have already become named co-authors on peer-reviewed scientific papers through Disk Detective.

One enthusiastic Disk Detective “superuser” is Hugo Durantini Luca, a computer technician in Córdoba, Argentina. He began classifying disks with the project in 2014 and since then has taken on additional responsibilities: writing tutorials, moderating discussions, and even helping use telescopes in South America to follow up on interesting targets. While he became involved because of his interest in detecting planetary systems and analyzing images, he says he highly values “the way you are able to work with the science team directly.” He is in frequent communication with Kuchner and other professional astronomers, and he participates in a weekly video call for superusers.

“I think we are going to have an interesting new season,” Durantini Luca said. “The new way we are processing the data will allow us to analyze the image[s] with better detail.”

Citizen scientists at Disk Detective made an important discovery in 2016: a new class of disks, called Peter Pan disks. Most disks around young, low-mass stars should lose their gas, due to planet formation and natural dissipation into space, after 5 million years. Yet Disk Detective citizen scientists discovered a disk with plenty of gas orbiting a star that is roughly 45 million years old.

Since then, seven similar mysteriously young-looking disks have been found, each at least 20 million years old. Scientists are still puzzling out why planet formation goes on for so long in these disks. They predict that citizen scientists may find as many as 15 new Peter Pan disks through the newly revamped Disk Detective.

“To figure out how disks evolve, we need a big sample of different kinds of disks of different ages,” Kuchner said.

More recently, Disk Detective’s efforts resulted in a discovery announced on June 2 at the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) 236th meeting, which was held virtually. With the help of citizen scientists, astronomers identified the closest young brown dwarf disk yet, one that may have the capability to form planets. This 3.7-million-year-old brown dwarf, called W1200-7845, is about 333 light-years away. A light-year is the distance light travels in one year; the closest star beyond the Sun is over 4 light-years away.

“There are not many examples of young brown dwarfs so close to the Sun, so W1200-7845 is an exciting discovery,” said Maria Schutte, a predoctoral graduate student at the University of Oklahoma, who led the study and presented the findings at the AAS meeting. Durantini Luca and other citizen scientists were included as coauthors.

Since the last Disk Detective data release, ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) Gaia satellite has delivered an unprecedented bounty of information about the locations, movements, and types of stars in the Milky Way. The Disk Detective science team used the new data from Gaia to identify M dwarfs of interest to the project. A second improvement to the project is that the new images from the surveys listed above have higher resolution than the previous batch of data, making more background objects visible.

“NASA needs your help,” Kuchner said. “Come discover these disks with us!”

About Disk Detective

Disk Detective is a NASA-funded citizen science project that is part of the NASA-sponsored Zooniverse citizen science platform.

Check out the revamped Disk Detective project at:

https://diskdetective.org

Learn more about NASA Citizen Science at:

https://science.nasa.gov/citizenscience

About WISE and NEOWISE

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California managed and operated WISE for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate from 2009 to 2011. Edward Wright at the University of California, Los Angeles was the principal investigator. The mission was selected competitively under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. In late 2013, the spacecraft was reactivated and renamed NEOWISE.

For more information about NEOWISE, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/neowise

http://neowise.ipac.caltech.edu/

For more information about WISE, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/wise

https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/wise/

News Media Contact

Calla Cofield
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-2469
Calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

Elizabeth Landau
NASA Headquarters
202-923-0167
elandau@nasa.gov

2020-137

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    This is the French language highlights associated with GAO-21-359. Constats du GAO Au 31 mars 2020, l’Agence des États-Unis pour le développement international (USAID) et les Centres des États-Unis pour le contrôle et la prévention des maladies (CDC) ensemble avaient alloué un total de plus de 1,2 milliard de dollars et avaient décaissé environ 1 milliard pour financer des activités de sécurité sanitaire mondiale (global health security - GHS), sur des fonds affectés durant les années fiscales 2015 à 2019. L’USAID et les CDC ont soutenu des activités de renforcement des capacités des pays dans 11 domaines techniques en rapport avec la lutte contre les maladies infectieuses. Les fonds engagés ont soutenu des activités de GHS dans pas moins de 34 pays, dont 25 étaient partenaires du Programme d’action pour la sécurité sanitaire mondiale (Global Health Security Agenda - GHSA). Activités soutenues par les États-Unis en Éthiopie pour renforcer la sécurité sanitaire mondiale Les évaluations de responsables officiels des États-Unis portant sur les capacités de 17 pays partenaires du GHSA à faire face aux menaces des maladies infectieuses révèlent qu’à la fin de l’année fiscale 2019, la plupart de ces pays avaient des capacités dans chacun des 11 domaines techniques retenus mais connaissaient diverses difficultés. Les équipes-pays interinstitutionnelles américaines réalisent des évaluations de capacités bisannuelles dont le personnel du siège de l’USAID et des CDC se sert pour assurer un suivi des progrès des pays. Selon les évaluations de l’année fiscale 2019, 14 pays avaient développé ou démontré des capacités dans la plupart des domaines techniques. Les rapports ont démontré par ailleurs que la plupart des capacités de ces pays étaient restées stables ou avaient augmenté par rapport à 2016 et 2017. C’est dans le domaine technique de la résistance aux antimicrobiens qu’ont été enregistrées les plus fortes augmentations de capacités, par exemple dans la mise en place de systèmes de surveillance. Dans son analyse des rapports, le GAO a constaté que les difficultés les plus fréquentes en matière de renforcement des capacités de GHS étaient les faiblesses des institutions de l’État et le manque de ressources et de capital humain. Selon des responsables officiels, certaines de ces difficultés peuvent être résolues par plus de financement, d’assistance technique ou d’efforts diplomatiques des États-Unis, mais beaucoup d’autres restent en dehors du control du gouvernement des États-Unis. Ceci est une version publique d’un rapport confidentiel émis par le GAO en février 2021; les informations jugées sensibles par l’USAID et les CDC en ont été omises. Pourquoi cette étude du GAO La survenue de la maladie à coronavirus (COVID-19) en décembre 2019 a démontré que les maladies infectieuses peuvent causer des pertes de vie catastrophiques et infliger des dommages durables à l’économie mondiale. L’USAID et les CDC dirigent les efforts déployés par les États-Unis pour renforcer la sécurité sanitaire mondiale, à savoir la capacité mondiale à se préparer à lutter contre les maladies infectieuses, à les détecter et à y riposter, ainsi qu’à réduire ou à prévenir leur propagation sur le plan international. Ces efforts comprennent des activités liées au GHSA, qui vise à accélérer l’obtention de progrès en matière de respect des règlements et autres accords mondiaux relatifs à la santé. Le rapport 114-693 de la Chambre des représentants prévoyait un examen, par le Government Accountability Office (GAO), de l’emploi des fonds de GHS. Dans ce rapport, le GAO examine, pour les 5 années fiscales précédant le début de la pandémie de COVID-19 : 1) l’état des financements et des activités de l’USAID et des CDC relatifs à la GHS et 2) des évaluations d’organismes des États -Unis, réalisées à la fin de l’année fiscale 2019, portant sur les capacités des pays partenaires du GHSA à faire face aux menaces des maladies infectieuses et sur les difficultés que ces pays ont dû relever pour renforcer leurs capacités. Le GAO a analysé des documents d’organismes des États-Unis et d’organismes internationaux. Le GAO a aussi interviewé des responsables officiels à Washington et à Atlanta (Géorgie) ainsi qu’en Ethiopie, en Indonésie, au Sénégal et au Viet Nam. Le GAO a choisi ces pays sur la base de critères tels que la présence de personnel de multiples organismes des États-Unis. Le GAO a également analysé des évaluations interinstitutionnelles des capacités des pays à faire face aux menaces des maladies infectieuses durant l’année fiscale 2019 et les a comparées aux données de référence de 2016 et 2017. Pour plus d’informations, s’adresser à David Gootnick au (202) 512-3149 ou à gootnickd@gao.gov.
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  • High-Performance Computing: NNSA Could Improve Program Management Processes for System Acquisitions
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) analysis of alternatives (AOA) process for its $600 million El Capitan HPC acquisition did not fully follow agency policy that states that AOA processes should be consistent with GAO best practices, where possible, and any deviations must be justified and documented. According to GAO best practices, a reliable AOA process should meet four characteristics: it should be comprehensive, well documented, unbiased, and credible. As seen in the table, the AOA process for El Capitan partially met one of these characteristics and minimally met the other three. NNSA did not justify or document the deviations from these best practices, as required by NNSA policy. GAO also found that the AOA process was conducted by the contractor that manages the El Capitan acquisition program, contrary to agency policy and guidance stating that AOAs should be conducted by an independent entity. Without following AOA best practices where possible; justifying and documenting any deviations; and ensuring AOA processes are conducted by an independent entity, as required, NNSA cannot be assured of a reliable assessment of options for meeting critical mission needs. Extent to Which the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Met the Characteristics of a Reliable Analysis of Alternatives (AOA) Process AOA characteristic GAO assessment Example of deviation Comprehensive Partially met Cost estimates are incomplete and did not follow best practices. Well documented Minimally met The alternatives' descriptions are not detailed enough for a robust analysis. Unbiased Minimally met NNSA had a predetermined solution, acquiring an HPC system, before performing the AOA process. Credible Minimally met The selection criteria appear to have been written for the preferred alternative. Source: GAO analysis of NNSA information. | GAO-21-194 GAO found that, in the second year of the El Capitan acquisition program's 5-year acquisition life cycle, NNSA has fully implemented selected key practices related to program monitoring and control. However, NNSA has only partially implemented key practices related to requirements management. Specifically, El Capitan program officials did not update and maintain acquisition program documents to include current requirements. NNSA officials stated that once the program developed its program plan early in the program's life cycle, they did not require the program to update and maintain that program plan. However, NNSA's own program management policy requires programs to update program documents throughout the duration of the program. Without updating and maintaining El Capitan program documents to include current requirements, NNSA officials may be limited in their ability to ensure that all mission requirements are met. Why GAO Did This Study NNSA is responsible for maintaining the nation's nuclear stockpile. To analyze the performance, safety, and reliability of nuclear weapons, it acquires high-performance computing (HPC) systems to conduct simulations. The latest system, El Capitan, is expected to be fully deployed by March 2024. The committee report accompanying the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2019, includes a provision for GAO to review NNSA's management of its Advanced Simulation and Computing program. This report examines, among other things, (1) the extent to which NNSA's AOA process for the El Capitan acquisition met best practices and followed agency policy and guidance and (2) the extent to which NNSA is implementing selected acquisition best practices in carrying out the El Capitan acquisition program. GAO reviewed documents and interviewed NNSA officials and laboratory representatives involved in carrying out the AOA and acquisition processes.
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  • Decennial Census: Bureau Should Assess Significant Data Collection Challenges as It Undertakes Planning for 2030
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In March 2020, the Census Bureau (Bureau) delayed the start of field data collection because of COVID-19 safety, and then revised several operational timelines in response to the pandemic and Department of Commerce (Commerce) decisions. Nationally the Bureau reported completing more than 99 percent of nonresponse follow-up cases (households that have not responded to the census) by October 15, 2020. The Bureau attributes the use of technology as among the reasons it completed the work by this date. The Bureau, however, had lower completion percentages ranging between 94 and 99 for 10 local geographic areas, in part because of natural disasters and COVID-19. For example, according to the Bureau, in Shreveport, Louisiana, short-term closures stemming from the hurricane impacted data collection for 82,863 housing units. As a mitigation strategy, the Bureau shifted the Shreveport operation to telephone enumeration and brought in more than 1,200 enumerators from travel teams. Despite these efforts, the Bureau was unable to complete 22,588 cases in Shreveport before data collection ended. For these cases the Bureau will need to rely on alternate methods including imputation, which draws data from similar nearby households to determine whether a housing unit exists, whether it is occupied, and, if so, by how many people. In addition to the challenges brought on by natural disasters, the Bureau encountered other difficulties during nonresponse follow-up, such as, the inability of supervisors to reassign open cases in a timely fashion. GAO found that census field supervisors did not have the authority to reassign cases and had to wait for the field manager to make those reassignments. Bureau officials told GAO it would consider the reassignment of cases as it moves towards planning for the 2030 Census. To monitor nonresponse follow-up, the Bureau used quality control procedures, such as real-time monitoring of enumerator activities by supervisors and training assessments. However, GAO found the Bureau did not have proper controls in place, allowing some enumerators to work without having passed the required training assessment. The Bureau agreed that additional controls were necessary. The Bureau planned to count individuals living in group quarters, such as skilled-nursing and correctional facilities, between April 2, 2020, and June 5, 2020, but revised those dates to July 1, 2020, through September 3, 2020. The pandemic made it difficult to count group quarters. For example, Bureau staff found it challenging to locate a point of contact at some group quarters because facilities were closed due to the pandemic. Bureau officials told us that in December 2020 they decided to re-contact more than 24,000 out of approximately 272,000 group quarter facilities to collect data, and that imputation would be used to count individuals at the remaining facilities still reporting a zero population count. The Bureau is updating plans to assess operations and identify resulting lessons learned from the 2020 Census. As part of its planning for 2030, it will be important for the Bureau to assess the impact of the 2020 late design changes and the operations' challenges that arose. Why GAO Did This Study The 2020 Census was conducted under extraordinary circumstances. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and related Commerce decisions, the Bureau made a series of late changes to the design of the census. As GAO previously reported, these changes introduced risks to the quality of data that the Bureau provides for congressional apportionment and redistricting purposes. GAO was asked to review the Bureau's implementation of the 2020 Census. This report assesses the Bureau's implementation of the: (1) nonresponse follow-up operation, (2) group quarters enumeration, and (3) plans to assess those operations. To address these objectives, GAO conducted a series of surveys of all 248 census offices during the collection of data for those operations. GAO also monitored the cost and progress of operations and interviewed census field supervisors for each operation.
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    A Florida recording artist and a Pennsylvania towing company owner have been charged for their alleged participation in a scheme to file fraudulent loan applications seeking more than $24 million in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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  • Government Auditing Standards: 2018 Revision Technical Update April 2021 (Supersedes GAO-18-568G)
    In U.S GAO News
    The Yellow Book provides standards and guidance for auditors and audit organizations, outlining the requirements for audit reports, professional qualifications for auditors, and audit organization quality control. Auditors of federal, state, and local government programs use these standards to perform their audits and produce their reports. Effective Date The 2018 revision of the Yellow Book is effective for financial audits, attestation engagements, and reviews of financial statements for periods ending on or after June 30, 2020, and for performance audits beginning on or after July 1, 2019. Early implementation is not permitted. The technical updates to the 2018 revision of the Yellow Book are effective upon issuance. Revision Process Yellow Book revisions undergo an extensive, deliberative process, including public comments and input from the Comptroller General's Advisory Council on Government Auditing Standards. GAO considered all comments and input in finalizing revisions to the standards. For more information, contact James R. Dalkin at (202) 512-9535 or yellowbook@gao.gov. Visit our Yellow Book website for more information on applicable updates and alerts.
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    A complaint and arrest warrant were unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging Xinjiang Jin, also known as “Julien Jin,” with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and unlawful conspiracy to transfer a means of identification.  Jin, an employee of a U.S.-based telecommunications company (Company-1) who was based in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), allegedly participated in a scheme to disrupt a series of meetings in May and June 2020 held to commemorate the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in the PRC.  The meetings were conducted using a videoconferencing program provided by Company-1, and were organized and hosted by U.S-based individuals, including individuals residing in the Eastern District of New York.  Jin is not in U.S. custody.
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