Citizen Scientists Discover a New World

January 11, 2019 By IdeaConnection

K2-288BbCitizen scientists looking to the heavens have excelled themselves, finding a new planet that had been missed by advanced NASA technology.

They keen-eyed volunteers discovered K2-288Bb, a planet that is twice the size of the Earth.  So how did they do it?

The volunteer scientists are from a citizen program named Exoplanet Explorers and were analyzing historical records left by the Kepler Space Telescope. This now-retired space observatory was launched by NASA in 2009.  Its mission was to detect Earth-size extrasolar planets orbiting other stars. 

To date, 2,331 confirmed planets were discovered by Kepler. Details can be seen on NASA's Exoplanet Archive. Even though the mission is over there's still room for further discoveries thanks to the data it has left behind.

The citizen scientists were able to discover the new planet by studying light-curve data from Kepler with their own eyes, rather than with software.  This is a planet that sophisticated algorithms missed.

The New Extrasolar Planet

More detail about the discovery is available in a supporting paper - K2-288Bb: A Small Temperate Planet in a Low-mass Binary System Discovered by Citizen Scientists.  The new world could be rocky or it could be a gas-rich planet similar to Neptune, the eighth planet in our solar system. One thing that is for certain is that it exists in its star's habitable zone, the orbital distance within which liquid water may exist on a planet's surface.

K2-288Bb is located 226 light years away from us, in the constellation Taurus and orbits its star every 3.1 days.


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