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.”

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