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Citizen Scientist Discovers Four Super-Earths Around A Sun-Like Star

First Posted: Apr 08, 2017 05:23 AM EDT
Exoplanet System
Andrew Grey from Australia has discovered an exoplanet system, where four super-Earths closely orbit its star, with the help of a Zooniverse website. (Image used for representation only.)
(Photo : Jeheil/YouTube screenshot)

Citizen scientist Andrew Grey from Australia’s Darwin detected a new exoplanet system with at least four super-Earths orbiting it. The amateur astronomer was one of the viewers of an ABC TV show Stargazing Live that called on astronomy enthusiasts to join the search for planets. The amateurs were assisted in their endeavors by a website set up by the Zooniverse project -- a citizen science platform run by the Citizen Science Alliance, the U.K.’s University of Oxford and Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.

According to a Science Alert report, more than 10,000 amateur astronomers had logged into the website Exoplanet Explorers to go through a huge array of data from NASA's Kepler telescope. Grey studied more than 1,000 stars on the website before detecting the characteristic dips in a star’s brightness, which implies that an exoplanet is orbiting it. This method to discover planets, beyond the solar system, is known as transit photometry or transit method.

"The first night I jumped on I believe it was about until 12:30,” Grey told Stargazing Live. “I catalogued 1,000 on the first night, so I punched a few out.”

Grey's name will appear on a scientific paper, along with other co-discoverers, that will report the significant discovery of a star with four planets that orbit it closer than Mercury orbits the Sun. The newly discovered planetary system is located 597 light-years away from Earth. Each of the four planets in the star system have masses greater than Earth, but lesser than Uranus and Neptune.

Incidentally, Zooniverse has provided a platform for citizen scientists since July 2007 to make exciting and valuable contributions to the scientific world. According to the Astronomy Magazine, any person with an interest in science and discovery can be a citizen scientist. No formal or specific degree is needed for it.

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