Amateurs help astronomers discover 2 potential exoplanets

October 4, 2011 11:38

As part of online citizen science project, users analyze light from 150,000 stars in hope of discovering Earth-like planets orbiting around them.

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This illustration by the French Space Agency CNES

COROT planets 311. (photo credit: CNES)

Astronomers have announced the discovery of two potential exoplanets discovered by Planet Hunters users in a new study to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The astronomers at Yale University were helped by users from around the world who analyzed the light from 150,000 stars in the hopes of discovering Earth-like planets orbiting around them, as part of an online citizen science project called Planet Hunters.

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The project, which was launched last December, has seen over 40,000 web users from around the world helping professional astronomers.

Users analyzed real scientific data collected by NASA's Kepler mission, which has been searching for planets beyond our own solar system — called exoplanets — since its launch in March 2009.

"This is the first time that the public has used data from a NASA space mission to detect possible planets orbiting other stars," said Yale astronomer and exoplanet expert Debra Fischer, who helped launch the Planet Hunters project.

Users found the two candidates in the first month of Planet Hunters operations using data the Kepler mission made publicly available. The two candidates were flagged as potential planets by several dozen different Planet Hunters users, as the same data are analyzed by more than one user.

"This is what we found after just a preliminary glance through the first round of Kepler data," Fischer said. "There's no doubt that, with each new round of data, there will be more discoveries to come."

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