Multi-planet System found through crowdsourcing

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope data used to discover Multi-Planet System

Eventually, more planets could be discovered orbiting the system's star.

They named the system K2-138. Christiansen, along with UC Santa Cruz astronomer Ian Crossfield and NASA astronomer Geert Barentsen, examined the incoming data, resulting in many new candidates, including 44 Jupiter-sized planets, 72 Neptune-sized, 44 Earth-sized and 53 so-called super-Earths, which are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.

Being in a resonance chain means each planet takes nearly 50% longer to orbit the star than the next planet further in.

All the worlds are a bit bigger than our own planet, ranging between 1.6 and 3.3 times the radius of Earth.

Citizen scientists have discovered five tightly packed planets outside our solar system, almost 620 light years from Earth, using data from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. They pored through publicly available data from K2, a follow-on to NASA's Kepler Space Telescope mission, which since 2009 has observed the sky for signs of Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars. That suggests the planets all formed together in a smooth, rotating disc before moving closer in toward the star over millions of years. The discovery was announced this week at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

Thousands of citizen scientists got to work on Kepler data in 2017 when Exoplanet Explorers launched. The findings have also been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. They designed a training programme to first teach users what to look for in determining whether a signal is a planetary transit.

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The K2 data was mostly light curves, showing the intensity of light from individual stars. A dip typically indicates that a large object - namely an exoplanet - has passed in front of it. Users could then sift through actual light curves from the K2 mission and click "yes" or "no", depending on whether they thought the curve looked like a transit.

An artist's depiction of K2-138.

"We have each potential transit signal looked at by a minimum of 10 people, and each needs a minimum of 90 percent of "yes" votes to be considered for further characterization", she added.

For the first time in history, a crowdsourced team of amateur citizen scientists has discovered a multi-planetary system. "And the human eye in many cases is very effective in separating the planetary wheat from the nonplanetary chaff", Crossfield said in a statement Thursday. But the story of how K2-138 was discovered is also pretty neat.

"Some current theories suggest that planets form by a chaotic scattering of rock and gas and other material in the early stages of the planetary system's life", Christiansen said. "However, these theories are unlikely to result in such a closely packed, orderly system as K2-138", Christiansen said in a statement.

The credit for the discovery of the alien planetary system goes to the over 1,000 citizen scientists across the globe, who worked on a project called Exoplanet Explorers.


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