A team of citizen scientists had made history with the discovery of a new planetary system containing five planets.
Located around 620 light years away, a system of five planets named K2-138 for the Kepler Space Telescope during its K2 Mission, marks the first discovery of a planetary system by a crowdsourced team of amateur scientists.
All of the five planets are packed into a tight orbit around the orange dwarf star, originally discovered by the Kepler Telescope on its recent mission. These types of stars range in size from 0.45 to .8 that of our sun, and the five planets themselves range in size from 1.6 to 3.3 times bigger than Earth.
The tight orbit of these bodies and proximity to their central star means that they are uninhabitable, but it’s still a significant discovery by a team without any formal training.
The Discovery Process
Discovering the five planets in their own system was an interesting process that shows the capabilities of a determined group of citizen scientist. The bodies were discovered as part of the Exoplanet Explorers project, which utilizes both the online Zooniverse platform as well as data from the NASA Kepler Space Telescope discussed above.
Kepler measures the brightness of stars, and astronomers look at these measurements in hopes of finding a decrease in the star’s luminosity. These dips indicate that a large body has crossed in front of the star, which is the case for the five planets discovered in K2-138.
Gizmodo reports that over the past three years, the Kepler telescope has logged data from 287309 stars, and that number continues to climb by 10000 or more every couple of months.