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Discovery of Planets Expands beyond Domain of Professional Astronomers

Thu, 10/18/2012 - 11:24am

Discovery of Planets Expands beyond Domain of Professional Astronomers

Four-Star Planet
A Four-Star Planet: An artist's illustration of PH1, a planet discovered by volunteers from the Planet Hunters citizen science project. PH1, shown in the foreground, is the first reported case of a planet orbiting a double-star that, in turn, is orbited by a second distant pair of stars. The phenomenon is called a circumbinary planet in a four-star system. Courtesy of Haven Giguere/Yale
A joint effort of amateur astronomers and scientists has led to the first reported case of a planet orbiting a double-star that, in turn, is orbited by a second distant pair of stars. Aided by volunteer citizen scientists using the Planethunters.org Web site, a Yale-led international team of astronomers identified and confirmed discovery of the phenomenon, called a circumbinary planet in a four-star system. Only six planets are known to orbit two stars but none of these are orbited by a distant binary.

Coined PH1, the planet was identified by the citizen scientists participating in Planets Hunters, a Yale-led program that enlists the public to review astronomical data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft for signs of planets transits distant stars.

"I celebrate this discovery as a milestone for the Planet Hunters team: discovering their first exoplanet lurking in the Kepler data. I celebrate this discovery for the wow-factor of a planet in a four-star system," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler scientist at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. "Most importantly, I celebrate this discovery as the fruit of exemplary human cooperation — cooperation between scientists and citizens who give of themselves for the love of stars, knowledge and exploration."

A bit larger than Neptune and thought to be a gas giant, PH1 orbits its host stars every 137 days. Beyond the planet's orbit approximately 900 times the distance between the sun and Earth, a second pair of stars orbits the planetary system.

The research paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal was presented at the annual meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Reno.

Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA, manages Kepler's ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, managed the Kepler mission's development. Ball Aerospace and Technologies in Boulder, CO, developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

To read more about the discovery, visit Planethunters.org.

For information about the Kepler Mission, click: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/main/index.html

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