Citizen scientists discover rare exoplanet

Although NASA's Kepler space telescope ran out of fuel and ended its mission in 2018, citizen scientists hav...

Posted: Jan 8, 2019 4:47 AM
Updated: Jan 8, 2019 4:47 AM

Although NASA's Kepler space telescope ran out of fuel and ended its mission in 2018, citizen scientists have used its data to discover an exoplanet 226 light-years away in the Taurus constellation.

The exoplanet, known as K2-288Bb, is about twice the size of Earth and orbits within the habitable zone of its star, meaning liquid water may exist on its surface. It's difficult to tell whether the planet is rocky like Earth or a gas giant like Neptune.

Celestial bodies and objects

Exoplanets

Government organizations - US

Karakoram Range

Mountains (by name)

NASA

Neptune

Observatories and telescopes

Physical locations

Planets and moons

Science

Space and astronomy

Space exploration

US federal departments and agencies

US government independent agencies

Earth

The planet is in the K2-288 system, which contains a pair of dim, cool M-type stars that are 5.1 billion miles apart, about six times the distance between Saturn and the sun. The brightest of the two stars is half as massive as our sun, and the other star is one-third of the sun's mass. K2-288Bb orbits the smaller, dimmer star, completing a full orbit every 31.3 days.

K2-288Bb is half the size of Neptune or 1.9 times the size of Earth, placing it in the "Fulton gap" between 1.5 and two times the size of Earth. This is a rare size of exoplanet that makes it perfect for studying planetary evolution because so few have been found.

The discovery was announced Monday at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

"It's a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon," said Adina Feinstein, a University of Chicago graduate student in astrophysics and lead author of a paper describing the new planet that was accepted for publication by The Astronomical Journal.

Although all of the data from the Kepler mission was run through an algorithm to determine potential planet candidates, visual manpower was needed to actually look at the possible planet transits -- or dip in light when a planet passes in front of its star -- in the light curve data. Kepler observed other events that could be mistaken for planet transits by a computer.

But the "reboot" of the Kepler mission in 2014 that led to the K2 mission allowed for multiple observation campaigns that brought in even more data. Every three months, Kepler would stare at a different patch of sky.

"Reorienting Kepler relative to the Sun caused miniscule changes in the shape of the telescope and the temperature of the electronics, which inevitably affected Kepler's sensitive measurements in the first days of each campaign," said study co-author Geert Barentsen, an astrophysicist at NASA's Ames Research Center, in a statement.

Those first three days of data were ignored, and errors were corrected in the rest of the data gathered.

But the scientists couldn't do it alone. There were too many light curves to study on their own.

So the reprocessed, "cleaned-up" light curves were uploaded through the Exoplanet Explorers project on online platform Zooniverse, and the public was invited to "go forth and find us planets," Feinstein said.

In May 2017, citizen scientists began discussing a particular planet candidate, but it had only two transits, or passes of the planet in front of its star. The scientists needed at least three to mark it as an interesting target.

Feinstein and Makennah Bristow, an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina Asheville, worked as interns at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, searching the data for transits. They had noticed the same system and its two transits.

But the citizen scientists found the third transit hiding in those first few days of data that had been all but forgotten.

"That's how we missed it -- and it took the keen eyes of citizen scientists to make this extremely valuable find and point us to it," Feinstein said.

Follow-up observations were made with multiple telescopes to confirm the exoplanet.

There will be more opportunities for citizen scientists to help discover exoplanets. NASA's latest planet-hunting mission, TESS, will be providing more light curves that are full of potential planets waiting to be found.

Last year at the American Astronomical Society meeting, it was announced that citizen scientists helped discover five planets between the size of Earth and Neptune around star K2-138, the first multiplanet system found through crowdsourcing.

This year, Kevin Hardegree-Ullman, postdoctoral scholar in astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, announced that the Spitzer space telescope followed up on that discovery and discovered a sixth planet, K2-138 g, smaller than Neptune, that orbits the star every 42 days.

"This is only the ninth system discovered containing six or more planets," he said.

Huntsville
Clear
87° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 89°
Florence
Clear
91° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 94°
Fayetteville
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 86°
Decatur
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 90°
Scottsboro
Clear
88° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 93°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 49892

Reported Deaths: 1077
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6219167
Mobile4625138
Montgomery4397111
Tuscaloosa258652
Madison19839
Marshall190411
Shelby155724
Lee153537
Morgan12415
Baldwin117011
Walker105631
Elmore100721
Dallas9789
Franklin92816
Etowah91914
DeKalb8647
Russell6650
Chambers66427
Autauga66214
Butler64529
Tallapoosa62569
Unassigned61627
Limestone5963
Houston5616
Lauderdale5556
Cullman5546
St. Clair4842
Colbert4816
Lowndes48022
Escambia4688
Pike4675
Calhoun4565
Coffee4164
Covington40312
Jackson4022
Barbour3772
Bullock37610
Dale3721
Talladega3677
Hale34323
Marengo34211
Clarke3036
Wilcox2998
Chilton2952
Winston2925
Sumter28713
Blount2811
Marion26714
Pickens2626
Monroe2553
Randolph2489
Conecuh2278
Perry2242
Bibb2151
Macon2129
Choctaw20912
Greene1929
Henry1463
Washington1367
Crenshaw1263
Lawrence1210
Cherokee1157
Geneva950
Lamar871
Clay822
Fayette811
Coosa631
Cleburne421
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 59546

Reported Deaths: 723
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby13113219
Davidson12935142
Rutherford342839
Hamilton319637
Sumner187456
Williamson167016
Knox15069
Trousdale15065
Out of TN139710
Wilson113017
Putnam10027
Unassigned9362
Bradley9254
Robertson90113
Sevier8843
Montgomery7127
Lake6960
Tipton6926
Bledsoe6271
Bedford5989
Macon5686
Hamblen4474
Maury4313
Hardeman4004
Fayette3573
Madison3472
Loudon3201
Blount3063
Rhea3030
Dyer2803
McMinn27018
Cheatham2643
Dickson2510
Washington2350
Lawrence2276
Cumberland2004
Anderson1892
Sullivan1892
Lauderdale1754
Gibson1661
Jefferson1641
Monroe1526
Smith1482
Greene1382
Coffee1370
Cocke1300
Hardin1257
Warren1200
Obion1182
Haywood1132
Franklin1103
Wayne1100
Marshall1082
Hickman1010
McNairy1001
Marion914
Giles891
Carter871
Lincoln840
Hawkins832
DeKalb820
White813
Roane800
Overton701
Weakley691
Claiborne680
Campbell671
Grundy652
Henderson650
Chester590
Unicoi560
Grainger550
Polk550
Carroll521
Henry500
Crockett493
Cannon460
Jackson460
Johnson450
Sequatchie450
Humphreys392
Meigs370
Perry370
Morgan301
Decatur280
Fentress270
Stewart270
Scott260
Union220
Houston200
Clay180
Moore170
Benton151
Hancock110
Lewis100
Van Buren90
Pickett70

 

 

Community Events