The wisdom of the crowd is coming to astronomy.
Developer CCP Games revealed today that it will use Eve Online to power the scientific search for exoplanets, which are planets that exist outside of the Solar System. For this project, the studio is partnering with the University of Reykjavik in its home country of Iceland as well as the University of Geneva and Michel Mayor, the honorary professor who discovered the first exoplanet. This is a kind of massive “citizen science” effort that CCP is calling MMOS, or massively multiplayer online science. And it could help real, trained researchers make important discoveries.
The project works by bringing actual astronomical data into the virtual world of Eve Online as part of a feature called Project Discovery. Eve players are rewarded for examining this data and classifying it, and the expectation is that over time a consensus will form regarding whether or not certain astronomical anomalies are exoplanets or something else. That determination will then go back to the University of Geneva for further examination.
This isn’t the first time CCP has attempted something like this. Project Discovery originally helped examine and classify human cell data for the Human Protein Atlas. The studio is just now shifting its focus outward.
“We were thrilled to see the successes of our first foray into citizen science, in which EVE players have been voracious contributors to the database of the Human Protein Atlas,” Eve executive producer Andie Nordgren. “In searching for the next dataset for our massive player community to tackle, the stars aligned for players to have the opportunity to directly contribute to the search for new planets with a world-renowned scientific team. Real people around the world collaborating in a virtual universe to explore the real universe is the stuff science fiction, and soon science fact, is made of.”
CCP is announcing this project on the heels of a revelation by astronomers that they have discovered a star with seven Earth-sized planets orbiting it. Called Trappist-1, this system is only 39 light-years from our sun, and each of these worlds could potentially contain liquid water — a necessary building block for life as we understand it.