Space

Volunteers find new system of four super-Earths within hours

Volunteers find new system of ...
Artist's impression of the Kepler Spacecraft
Artist's impression of the Kepler Spacecraft
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The light curve flagged by online volunteers now identified as the super-Earth EE-1b
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The light curve flagged by online volunteers now identified as the super-Earth EE-1b
Computer models of 1,235 planet candidates discovered in the first few years of the Kepler mission – the one on its own in the top right is the Sun with Earth transiting as a size comparison
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Computer models of 1,235 planet candidates discovered in the first few years of the Kepler mission – the one on its own in the top right is the Sun with Earth transiting as a size comparison
A model of the four-planet system found by Exoplanet Explorers volunteers
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A model of the four-planet system found by Exoplanet Explorers volunteers
Artist's impression of the Kepler Spacecraft
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Artist's impression of the Kepler Spacecraft

Lately it seems like everyone has been discovering new exoplanets far beyond our solar system. In the case of a new citizen science project called Exoplanet Explorers, literally anyone can help comb through Kepler Space Telescope data to identify new exoplanets – and within just two days of launching, the crowdsourced effort found four super-Earths orbiting the same star.

Thousands of people visited the Exoplanet Explorers website this week to sift Kepler's data from across the universe and the effort quickly yielded results. Four planets, unofficially known as EE-1b, EE-1c, EE-1d and EE-1e were discovered orbiting a sun-like star 597 light years away in the constellation Aquarius. The two planets orbiting closest to the star are both roughly twice the size of Earth, while the third and fourth are 2.74 and 2.22 times larger, respectively.

It's not likely we'll be putting these planets down on our list to visit once we finally figure out interstellar travel, though. These rocky planets are much closer to their star than even Mercury is to the Sun, taking between three and 13 days to complete one orbit, so they're likely to be more than a little toasty.

A model of the four-planet system found by Exoplanet Explorers volunteers
A model of the four-planet system found by Exoplanet Explorers volunteers

The scientists that oversee Exoplanet Explorers will now head the writing of a paper on the discovery that will then be submitted and peer reviewed for publication in a scientific journal.

Exoplanet Explorers is a project of the Zooniverse online citizen science platform developed by the University of Oxford, Chicago's Adler Planetarium and other research organizations. It allows anyone to volunteer to help comb through light curves of distant stars collected by Kepler to look for the tell-tale "dip" that indicates a planet may be briefly blocking out that light as it orbits.

The light curve flagged by online volunteers now identified as the super-Earth EE-1b
The light curve flagged by online volunteers now identified as the super-Earth EE-1b

Previous Zooniverse projects have tapped the crowd to look for gravitational lenses, detect asteroids and analyze images of Mars.

In addition to the four-planet system, only the 73rd system with four or more exoplanets to be discovered, the project has also found another planet just slightly larger than Earth about 400 light years away, a super-Earth 390 light years away, a Jupiter-sized planet 700 light years away and a number of other potential planet candidates, all in just a few days. If you want to join the hunt yourself, check out this link.

Source: Zooniverse

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