Exoplanet Explorers Discoveries – A Sixth Planet in the K2-138 System

This is the first of two guest posts from the Exoplanet Explorers research team announcing two new planets discovered by their Zooniverse volunteers. This post was written by Jessie Christiansen.

Hello citizen scientists! We are here at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the biggest astronomy meeting in the US of the year (around 3000 astronomers, depending on how many attendees are ultimately affected by the government shutdown). I’m excited to share that on Monday morning, we are making a couple of new exoplanet announcements as a result of your work here on Zooniverse, using the Exoplanet Explorers project!

Last year at the same meeting, we announced the discovery of K2-138. This was a system of five small planets around a K star (an orange dwarf star). The planets all have very short orbital periods (from 2.5 to 12.8 days! Recall that in our solar system the shortest period planet is Mercury, with a period of ~88 days) that form an unbroken chain of near-resonances. These resonances offer tantalizing clues as to how this system formed, a question we are still trying to answer for exoplanet systems in general. The resonances also beg the question – how far could the chain continue? This was the longest unbroken chain of near first-order resonances which had been found (by anyone, let alone citizen scientists!).

At the time, we had hints of a sixth planet in the system. In the original data analysed by citizen scientists, there were two anomalous events that could not be accounted for by the five known planets – events that must have been caused by at least one, if not more, additional planets. If they were both due to a single additional planet, then we could predict when the next event caused by that planet would happen – and we did. We were awarded time on the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope at the predicted time, and BOOM. There it was. A third event, shown below, confirming that the two previous events were indeed caused by the same planet, a planet for which we now knew the size and period.

So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce K2-138 g! It is a planet just a little bit smaller than Neptune (which means it is slightly larger than the other five planets in the system, which are all between the size of Earth and Neptune). It has a period of about 42 days, which means it’s pretty warm (400 degrees K) and therefore not habitable. Also, very interestingly, it is not on the resonant chain – it’s significantly further out than the next planet in the chain would be. In fact, it’s far enough out that there is a noticeable gap – a gap that is big enough to hide more planets on the chain. If these planets exist, they don’t seem to be transiting, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be detected in other ways, including by measuring the effect of their presence on the other planets that do transit. The planet is being published in a forthcoming paper that will be led by Dr Kevin Hardegree-Ullman, a postdoctoral research fellow at Caltech/IPAC.

In the meantime, astronomers are still studying the previously identified planets, in particular to try to measure their masses. Having tightly packed systems that are near resonance like K2-138 provides a fantastic test-bed for examining all sorts of planet formation and migration theories, so we are excited to see what will come from this amazing system discovered by citizen scientists on Zooniverse in years to come!

We are also announcing a second new exoplanet system discovered by Exoplanet Explorers, but I will let Adina Feinstein, the lead author of that paper, introduce you to that exciting discovery.

Fixed Cross-Site Scripting Vulnerability on Project Page’s External Links

We recently fixed a security vulnerability that existed in the external/social links (e.g. to Twitter) of projects. Prior to this fix, it was possible for project owners to do two things: 1. create external links that ran malicious JavaScript code if they were clicked (e.g. allowing attackers to capture a user’s login session), and 2. create a link to a malicious website disguised as a “legitimate” link to a known Social website (e.g. a Twitter link that actually directed users to the spoof website “twiitteerrer.com”). Our patches fix both issues, and a follow up investigation revealed that there is no indication this vulnerability was exploited by anyone.

The security issue was discovered on 11 Dec 2018 during an internal security check. The first patch in the series (addressing the major JavaScript injection vulnerability) was deployed within 6 hours, and the final patch (addressing the relatively less harmful issue of spoof-able social links) deployed 2 days later.

The fixes for this vulnerability are contained in pull requests #5141, #5142, and #5148 of the Panoptes Front End project on GitHub. Anyone running their own hosted copy of this should pull these changes as soon as possible.

Additional notes on our investigation are as follows:

  • The vulnerability was introduced on 14 May 2015, in pull request 324.
  • Custom links for projects and organisations allowed project builders to cause a user’s browser to execute arbitrary javascript by entering URLs like javascript: alert('oh no'); if the user clicked on that link, the javascript would run.
  • Malicious javascript executed this way could do whatever it wanted on the site, i.e. it could have stolen logged-in users’ API tokens, logged users out and captured their passwords when re-logging in.
  • Theoretically, passwords may have been have been exposed if malicious Javascript captured them on login, though this would only impact users that click malicious links. Emails may have been exposed, notably if an admin user account was breached.
  • However, we audited the database but could find no evidence (other than our own tests) of this having been done by project owners.
  • Our current solution is to sanitise all external/social links – both when taking input from users and when rendering them on webpages – and only allowing standard website URLs to pass.

As a side effect of our fixes, project owners are now unable to add non-standard website URLs to their project’s external links – for example, https://example.com continues to work fine, but mailto:hello@example.com no longer does.

We apologise for any concern this issue may have caused.

Zooniverse Workflow Bug

We recently uncovered a couple of bugs in the Zooniverse code which meant that the wrong question text may have been shown to some volunteers on Zooniverse projects while they were classifying. They were caught and a fix was released the same day on 29th November 2018.

The bugs only affected some projects with multiple live workflows from 6th-12th and 20th-29th November.

One of the bugs was difficult to recreate and relied on a complex timing of events, therefore we think it was rare and probably did not affect a significant fraction of classifications, so it hopefully will not have caused major issues with the general consensus on the data. However, it is not possible for us to say exactly which classifications were affected in the timeframe the bug was active.

We have apologised to the relevant science teams for the issues this may cause with their data analysis, but we would also like to extend our apologies to all volunteers who have taken part in these projects during the time the bugs were in effect. It is of the utmost importance to us that no effort is wasted on our projects and when something like this happens it is taken very seriously by the Zooniverse team. Since we discovered these bugs we worked tirelessly to fix them, and we have taken actions to make sure nothing like this will happen in the future.

We hope that you accept our most sincere apologies and continue the amazing work you do on the Zooniverse. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us at contact@zooniverse.org.


The Zooniverse Team

Who’s who in the Zoo – Will Granger

In this week’s edition of our Who’s who in the Zoo series meet one of our Chicago based developers, Will Granger

– Helen


Will - Will Granger

Name: Will Granger

Location: Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL, USA




Tell us about your role within the team:

I’ve been with the Zooniverse team since Spring 2016 when I started as a Web Developer. Since then, I’ve expanded my roles a bit helping out with mobile development, when needed. Currently, my main project is working on a touch table application for Galaxy Zoo which should be at the Adler Planetarium Summer 2019.


What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

I’ve led many lives before joining the Zooniverse; however, my main occupation was teaching. I taught in various K – 12 schools in Alabama with non-profits and as a substitute teacher. I also spent a couple years overseas with the Peace Corps teaching at a university in Ukraine. Intermittently, I also spent some time opening a music venue in Alabama and touring in various bands.


What does your typical working day involve?

My typical working day involves keeping my eye on several code bases while also trying to develop the touch table application. Usually, I’ll spend part of the day doing maintenance on custom projects and the main Zooniverse page before checking on any mobile updates that need review. After that, I’ll continue building out the touch table, adding new features weekly.


How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

The Zooniverse is always expanding.


Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

The first Zooniverse project I worked on was Astronomy Rewind. My task was to create a sort of astronomical calculator to take coordinates of celestial objects (RA, DEC, etc.) and put those into the World Wide Telescope API to see how images and charts from astronomical journals would appear in space. This was my first task as a web developer, and I was constantly under the impression that every change I made would break the Zooniverse. In the end, my work succeeded and I looked back with satisfaction that I was able to convert once-intimidating Astrometry calculations into code.


Of all the discoveries made possible by the Zooniverse, which for you has been the most notable?

It’s difficult to choose one, but I’d say the discovery of a new exoplanet system during Stargazing Live in 2017 was the most exciting for me. Our team spent the prior month or so preparing for a spike of people visiting the site, and it was rewarding to see our work pay off, especially as the volunteer who made the discovery was interview on the BBC program.


What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

The first Zooniverse Team Meeting I attended was memorable. Our team is more or less separated between Chicago, Minneapolis, and Oxford, and we have the opportunity to meet together once a year. It was nice to meet everyone in person I had been working with since I started at the Zooniverse, especially since we were able to spend time after work hours getting to know each other in Chicago.


What are your top three citizen science projects? 

Anti-Slavery Manuscripts: This project is important to me because it was one of the first projects I took a lead on, and we did several new things with the Zooniverse, such as saving classifications in progress to return to later.

Galaxy Zoo: The longest running project on the Zooniverse deserves a mention, and I’m glad to be a part of the transition of this project to a touch table.

Snapshot Serengeti: Any camera trap project deserves a mention here, but it’s exciting to see what animal(s) will show up on an image.


What advice would you give to a researcher considering creating a Zooniverse project?

Taking a look at several active projects is a good first step. It’s good to have some ideas on how to setup a project if you’re more familiar with the breadth of projects available on the Zooniverse. Next, I’d play around with the project builder, even create a few test projects to make sure you know how those tools can be used. Once your familiar with that, I think a team should be in a good place to start implementing a project.


How can someone who’s never contributed to a citizen science project get started?

I’d recommend downloading the Zooniverse app and finding a swipe workflow to work on. These projects are easy to get into an would open the door to other projects we have on the Zooniverse. iNaturalist is also another citizen-science project worth checking out with an app available for download.


Where do you hope citizen science and the Zooniverse will be in 10 years time?

I hope we are able to grow in ways beyond our online presence. We have already started doing this with the mobile app and touch table, but I’m curious how this will continue developing in the future as technology advances. I would also like to see the Zooniverse partner with more institutions. We have projects with some Chicago-area museums, but it would be great to see the Zoooniverse in museums around the globe.


Is there anything in the Zooniverse pipeline that you’re particularly excited about?

I’m excited to see how the Zooniverse will partner with new telescopes being sent to space. In the next several years, there will be many advancements in data collection for such telescopes, and I think the Zooniverse can help researchers in their data collection.


When not at work, where are we most likely to find you?

I’m often at a show somewhere in Chicago. It’s great to live in such a large city where bands on tour make it a point to play a show. It’s always great to head out and see artists from bucket-list bands to friends coming through.


Do you have any party tricks or hidden talents?

I used to speak Russian fluently from living in Ukraine, but my skills are now a bit rusty. Writing people’s names in Cyrillic is always a crowd-pleaser.


Adler Members’ Night recap

We had a blast hanging out with Chicago-area volunteers and Adler Members at last month’s Adler Members’ Night! Visitors were able to try out potential new Zooniverse projects and Adler exhibits, including a constellation-themed project in collaboration with the Adler’s collections department, as well as U!Scientist, our NSF-supported touch table installation which features Galaxy Zoo.

Northwestern University researchers shook it up demonstrating why earthquakes behave in different ways based on plate friction, registered jumps on a seismograph and quizzed guests on seismograms from jumping second graders, storms and different earthquakes. Their Zooniverse project Earthquake Detective is currently in beta and is set to launch soon.

And we were delighted to watch volunteer @GlamasaurusRex complete her 15,000th classification LIVE IN PERSON. She made the classification on Higgs Hunters. Check out the video here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1jttO1w1OfPY9LEaS5SjmEzy36PiGnY4U

Beta for Mobile

One of the big efforts for the mobile app right now is to make the project building experience for mobile feel about the same as it does for web. For the most part, the experiences were very similar. In fact, they were almost identical besides the limitations we put on what workflows mobile projects can have. There was, however, a very large limiting factor for mobile project builders. There was no formal path from creating a project to getting that project to release on the app.

Introducing Beta Mode for mobile!

Now project builders who want their workflows to be enabled on mobile can have them reviewed on mobile as well. Here’s how it works:

When a project that has a mobile workflow is approved to go to beta, it will appear in the “Beta Review” section on the main page of the app.

Simulator Screen Shot - iPhone 8 - 2018-10-31 at 13.41.22

From there, users will be able to view and test all of the beta projects that are currently live.

We are launching this feature with (of course) Galaxy Zoo Mobile. It is available now for all our users, so go ahead and check it out!

Simulator Screen Shot - iPhone 8 - 2018-10-31 at 13.41.35

Like beta review on web-based projects, we will collect feedback from volunteer testers and give that back to project owners. This new process will lead to better, clearer mobile workflows in the future.

Stay tuned for more notes about upcoming mobile features!

Download our iOS and Android apps!

Who’s who in the Zoo – Syracuse University Zooniverse User Research Group

This week, meet the Syracuse University Zooniverse User Research Group – a team that works across multiple Zooniverse projects to study many aspects of citizen science, including what volunteers learn through participation and what motivates them to contribute. 

– Helen

group - Corey Jackson.png


Research Team: Syracuse University’s Zooniverse User Research Group

Location: School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York USA


What are your main research interests?

Our group studies user behaviors in Zooniverse. Our research is centered on (1) understanding the complex and emergent motivations of volunteers who contribute to Zooniverse projects and (2) investigating how amateurs learn via participation in projects. Our research covers users in Planet Hunters, Higgs Hunters, Asteroid Zoo, Seafloor Explorer, and Gravity Spy.


Who is in your project team? What are their roles?

Kevin Crowston, Professor

Carsten Osterlund, Associate Professor

Corey Jackson, Ph.D. Candidate

Mabi Harandi, Ph.D. Student

Amruta Bhat, Masters Student

Dhruv Kharwar, Masters Student

Isabella Valentine, Undergraduate Student (REU)


Tell us more about the data used in your research

Our data comes from system logs, Talk posts, surveys, focus groups, and interviews.


How do Zooniverse volunteers contribute to your research? 

Zooniverse volunteers are extremely valuable to our research and in turn, enhance our ability to suggest features that encourage motivation and support learning.


What are the biggest challenges in your research?

One of the biggest challenges is learning more about newcomers and dropouts in the projects. These volunteers are valuable contributors to many citizen science projects. However, because they do not stay with the project for very long, there’s not much opportunity to interact with them. Understanding why they leave and how we can encourage them to stay can help increase contribution to Zooniverse projects.


What discoveries, and other outputs, has your project led to so far?

We’ve published more than twenty full papers, posters, and other publications based on user research in Zooniverse. You can see the list here (https://citsci.syr.edu/papers).


Once you’ve finished collecting data, what research questions do you hope to be able to answer?

Our questions center on motivation and learning. For instance, when newcomers join a project, informative resources such as volunteer-created discussion threads might be hidden across the discussion forums. We’re trying to find methods to apply machine learning techniques to bring these to the fore.


What’s in store for your project in the future?

Currently, we’re collaborating with the Gravity Spy project to design more complex citizen science tasks. For example, in Gravity Spy volunteers come up with their own labels to name phenomenon in the spectrograms they classify.


What are your favourite other citizen research projects and why?

We’re most actively involved with Gravity Spy. We’re currently working with LIGO scientists to design advanced citizen science work. We hope this research leads to the inclusion of citizen science tasks covering more phases of the scientific research process.


What guidance would you give to other researchers considering creating a citizen research project?

One of the most crucial aspects of a successful citizen science projects is engagement by the science team. Answering volunteer question on the discussion boards, organizing Skype meetings, providing feedback and keeping volunteers abreast of progress has been shown to encourage volunteers to remain active.


If you’d like to learn more about Syracuse University’s Zooniverse User Research Group check out their publications here (https://citsci.syr.edu/papers).

Who’s who in the Zoo – Grant Miller

In this week’s edition of our Who’s who in the Zoo series meet Grant Miller, communications and projects manager here at the Zooniverse. 

– Helen

13041206_1165455823487713_1298078809440163818_o - Grant Miller

Name: Grant Miller

Location: University of Oxford, UK




Tell us about your role within the team:

I don’t really have a solid job title. Sometimes I say communications lead. Occasionally it’s project manager. At points it has been community manager. I’ve been with the team for over 5 years and my role essentially involves talking to everyone (volunteers, project builders, the development team, and external researchers).


What did you do in your life before the Zooniverse?

I completed a PhD at the University of St Andrews in the search for, and characterisation of, exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy).


What does your typical working day involve?

Quite a few emails. A lot of working with people to help them build and run their project in the best way possible. Fantastic discussions with the other Zooniverse team members about how we can improve the platform.


How would you describe the Zooniverse in one sentence?

The Zooniverse breaks down barriers, leading to open research that wouldn’t be possible without the help of millions of volunteers worldwide.


Tell us about the first Zooniverse project you were involved with

I was a masters student doing a summer internship when Galaxy Zoo launched. I fell in love with it and did thousands of classifications one week instead of the work I was supposed to be doing.


Of all the discoveries made possible by the Zooniverse, which for you has been the most notable and why?

People all around the world, of all ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds will help you with your research if you just ask, and they’ll do it for no more than their desire to see progress.


What’s been your most memorable Zooniverse experience?

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend 3 weeks on an expedition to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica with the Penguin Watch research team, helping them maintain their cameras and monitor the penguin colonies. That’s hard to beat, but there have been many many other highlights over the last 5 years.


What are your top three citizen science projects? 

Plankton Portal (It was the first one I helped launch, and it is awesome. The images of the tiny sea creature are fantastic.)

Snapshot Serengeti (…and all other camera trap projects that followed. It was the original camera trap project on the Zooniverse and my first experience of the amazing and candid shots you could get of wildlife when they don’t think they’re being watched.)

Planet Hunters (it was the first exoplanet project we launched. On it the volunteers showed us just how awesome they could be when allowed to talk to each other. They discovered the first ever planet with 4 stars! I wish I had been smart enough to create a project like this to help with my PhD…)


What advice would you give to a researcher considering creating a Zooniverse project?

You’re entering a huge collaboration with lots of wonderful volunteers. Treat them with respect and communicate with them as often as you would a professional collaborator. They will reward you with awesome discoveries and unrivaled effort.


How can someone who’s never contributed to a citizen science project get started?

Just click ‘Get Started’ on any Zooniverse project. they are designed to minimise the barrier to entry. All of the tasks are pretty easy to do, and most projects come with a short tutorial to help you.


Where do you hope citizen science and the Zooniverse will be in 10 years time?

In every household and classroom. But seriously, just more present in people’s thoughts when they consider research methods. We also need to get humans working with machines to go through even larger datasets.


Is there anything in the Zooniverse pipeline that you’re particularly excited about?

I’m really excited to see what happens when we get humans and machines working together on the same datasets. This will allow us to do research that isn’t even possible with a large crowd.


When not at work, where are we most likely to find you?

Either exploring somewhere I’ve not been before, on the golf course, on the real tennis court, listening to music, watching football (‘mon Scotland!), or in the pub with friends. Preferably all of the above on the same day.


Do you have any party tricks or hidden talents?

I play guitar, but never do it in public anymore. I can also name all 50 US state capitals, which is pretty much useless. I’m above average at balancing objects (my record is 4 golf balls, or 5 pint glasses before being asked to leave the pub.)


Zooniverse Data Aggregation

Hi all, I am Coleman Krawczyk and for the past year I have been working on tools to help Zooniverse research teams work with their data exports.  The current version of the code (v1.3.0) supports data aggregation for nearly all the project builder task types, and support will be added for the remaining task types in the coming months.

What does this code do?

This code provides tools to allow research teams to process and aggregate classifications made on their project, or in other words, this code calculates the consensus answer for a given subject based on the volunteer classifications.  

The code is written in python, but it can be run completely using three command line scripts (no python knowledge needed) and a project’s data exports.


The first script is the uses a project’s workflow data export to auto-configure what extractors and reducers (see below) should be run for each task in the workflow.  This produces a series of `yaml` configuration files with reasonable default values selected.


Next the extraction script takes the classification data export and flattens it into a series of `csv` files, one for each unique task type, that only contain the data needed for the reduction process.  Although the code tries its best to produce completely “flat” data tables, this is not always possible, so more complex tasks (e.g. drawing tasks) have structured data for some columns.


The final script takes the results of the data extraction and combine them into a single consensus result for each subject and each task (e.g. vote counts, clustered shapes, etc…).  For more complex tasks (e.g. drawing tasks) the reducer’s configuration file accepts parameters to help tune the aggregation algorithms to best work with the data at hand.

A full example using these scripts can be found in the documentation.

Future for this code

At the moment this code is provided in its “offline” form, but we testing ways for this aggregation to be run “live” on a Zooniverse project.  When that system is finished a research team will be able to enter their configuration parameters directly in the project builder, a server will run the aggregation code, and the extracted or reduced `csv` files will be made available for download.

You’re invited!

Once again, we’re hosting a meetup for our Chicago-area Zooniverse volunteers during Adler’s Members’ Night.

Visit us at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago where you’ll be able to:

  • Meet Zooniverse team members
  • Talk to researchers from Northwestern University about an upcoming project
  • Preview new projects
  • Help us beta test a new exhibit for the Adler

The event is free for all Zooniverse volunteers – at the door, just show your Zooniverse profile either on a mobile device or printed out. You’ll be able to participate in all of the Adler’s Members’ Night activities and tour the planetarium after hours.

Adler Planetarium Members’ Night
Friday, October 26
6:00-10:00 pm