Amateur astronomer William Bianco doesn't huddle over a backyard telescope to hunt for undiscovered planets. He logs onto his computer.

Bianco, who was mesmerized by the intricacies of the universe as a young boy, is part of a growing online community that sifts through mountains of data collected by professional scientists in search of other worlds.

While Bianco has yet to make a landmark discovery, he savors the rush of teetering on the cutting edge of research.

Never before have amateur astronomers had so much unfettered access to celestial data once available only to scientists with huge...

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