NASA Announces the First Multi-Planet System Discovered Entirely Through Crowdsourcing

Citizen scientists find new planetary system

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

"We put all this data online and said to the public, 'Help us find some planets, '" Ian Crossfield, assistant professor of physics at MIT, who along with fellow astronomer Jesse Christiansen at Caltech worked to make Kepler data public, said in a statement.

Since the discovery of four planets in this system was announced past year, Dr Christiansen has been working to shed further light on this distant planetary neighbourhood, dubbed K2-138. On the second night of the show, the researchers discussed the demographics of the planet candidates found so far-44 Jupiter-sized planets, 72 Neptune-sized, 44 Earth-sized, and 53 so-called Super Earth's, which are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.

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. In the first instance of a discovery of this kind through crowdsourcing, five previously unknown exoplanets were identified using data from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope.

Citizen scientists find new planetary system

This artist concept depicts a top-down view of the K2-138 system, showing the orbits and relative sizes of the five known planets.

At least 10 users would have to look at a potential signal, and 90 per cent of these users would have to vote "yes", for researchers to consider the signal for further analysis.

The five planets are all part of the same star system located about 620 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Aquarius. Included in that search was a brand-new dataset from the K2 mission-the reincarnation of the primary Kepler mission, ended three years ago.

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"That's a really tantalising clue that we may be missing more planets in this system". This is the first multi-planet system of exoplanets discovered entirely by crowdsourcing. They statistically validated the set of planet signals as being "extremely likely", according to Christiansen, to be signals from true planets. This led to the discovery of the fifth planet and hints of a sixth. The planets were also found orbiting in an interesting mathematical configuration called "resonance" in which, each planet takes 50 percent longer to complete its orbit than the planet further in.

The collected findings have now been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. "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".

"Some current theories suggest that planets form by a chaotic scattering of rock and gas and other material in the early stages of the planetary system's life".

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A discovery by citizen scientists has led to the confirmation of a system of five planets orbiting a far-off star. "However, these theories are unlikely to result in such a closely packed, orderly system as K2-138", said Dr Christiansen. Funding was provided by the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Google, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, NASA, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Japanese Monbukagakusho, the Max Planck Society, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

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