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

K2-138 System Diagram

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

"Orbital commensurabilities among planets are fundamentally fragile, so the present-day configuration of the K2-138 planets clearly points to a rather gentle and laminar formation environment of these distant worlds". There's no way water would exist on the surface, as portrayed here.

Back in California, Crossfield and Christiansen joined NASA astronomer Geert Barentsen, who was in Australia, in examining results as they came in.

"We're looking forward to more discoveries in the near future", Crossfield says. The central star is slightly smaller and cooler than our Sun. Their orbits around their parent star appear to be concentric circles, unlike the elliptical ones we are familiar with in the solar system. The appearance of most systems containing planets with similar sizes and regularly spaced orbits suggests they have been mostly undisturbed since formation. They are all being classified as super-Earths, weighing in at about two to three times larger than our planet.

These planets are orbiting in a resonance, a mathematical term for when each planet takes nearly exactly 50 percent longer to orbit the star than the next planet further in.

Sorting through the upvoted, crowdsourced data, Christiansen eventually found a star with four planets orbiting it. Christainsen and the Expoplanet Explorers had stumbled upon the first system of exo-planets that was discovered entirely by crowdsourcing. "So, we made a decision to look for a multi-planet system because it's very hard to get an accidental false signal of several planets". But the story of how K2-138 was discovered is also pretty neat.

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.

Using data from some of the thousands of exoplanets located using Kepler, Weiss and her team used the W. M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii to obtain high-resolution spectral data of 1,305 stars hosting 2,025 planets. Typically, computer programs flag the stars with these brightness dips, then astronomers look at each one and decide whether or not they truly could host a planet candidate. A dip in starlight indicates a possible transit, or crossing, of an object such as a planet in front of its star. Known as the C12 dataset, this represents a disgusting amount of data for scientists to sift through.

K2-138 System Illustration

The project that allowed citizen scientists to make the discovery is called Exoplanet Explorers, and is part of the popular citizen scientist platform Zooniverse.

Another batch of 2017 Kepler data was recently uploaded to Exoplanet Explorers for citizen scientists to peer through. Dr. Christina formed that People from anywhere across the globe can log on and learn what real signals coming from exoplanet look like, and then look through actual data collected from the Kepler telescope to vote on whether or not to classify a given signal as a transit, or just noise. For the signals to get confirmed for further analysis by researchers, at least ten users should look at a potential signal and then ninety percent of users should have to vote "yes" for that signal.

During the Stargazing Live series, results from more than 10,000 viewers were collected by the Exoplanet Explorers. Astronomers have not yet searched through most of it for planets. "What's exciting is that we found this unusual system with the help of the general public". "So, we chose to look for a multi-planet system because it's very hard to get an accidental false signal of several planets".

They also found only a very weak correlation between star mass and planet radius, which means it's probably not stellar mass that enforces planet size. Three of the four planets received "yes" votes from 100 per cent of participants, while the remaining planet got "yes" votes from 92 per cent. Citizen scientists and astronomers are now searching through the new data trove, indicating that more new exciting discoveries may be in the offing.

Citizen scientists have struck again.

"The clockwork-like orbital architecture of this planetary system is keenly reminiscent of the Galilean satellites of Jupiter", says Konstantin Batygin, assistant professor of planetary science and Van Nuys Page Scholar, who was not involved with the study, said in a statement.

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