Citizen Astronomers Analyze Kepler Data to Find new Exoplanet

NASA may have retired Kepler Space Telescope from activity but the machine still has data that needs analyzing.  And while NASA is doing their best to extract the data, citizen astronomers have already made quite the impressive discovery.  A team of citizen scientists have analyzed historical records and used crowdsourced help from several volunteer astronomers—and combined this with data from Kepler—to learn of a new planet. Most impressive, though, this planet is roughly twice the size of Earth and NASA’s observations missed it completely.

Named K2-288Bb, the team of citizen astronomers comment that this large body could be rocky or gas-rich, which would make it similar to our Neptune. And the discovery is rare because it is not common to find planets of this size outside of our solar system (these are known as exoplanets).

The exoplanet K2-288Bb is located 226 light years away within the constellation Taurus.  It is actually part of a binary star system with two dim stars which are approximately 5.1 billion miles apart.  One of these stars is about half the size of our yellow sun while the other is about one-third the size of our sun.  The same research time that learned of the new planet found that it orbits that smaller star in just 3.1 [Earth] days. 

While scientists still don’t really know what the planet is like, we do know that it is quite large but still located within what the scientists call the “habitable zone” of the solar system.  Earth, of course, is within our solar system’s habitable zone, which is the region of the solar system in which we are most likely to find water on the surface.  

Of course, since the planet might also be more similar to Neptune, there is perhaps an equal chance that it would be hostile to all forms of life we know of.  

Regardless of what we continue to learn about K2-288Bb, a few things are certain.  For one, we are going to keep finding exoplanets as long as we continue looking. And two:  citizen scientists are a tremendous help in these efforts.