Yale’s Planethunters has its first exoplanet candidate confirmed by the Kepler mission – the first point for crowdsourced exoplanet hunting.
With modern astronomy one of the most fundamental problems is data processing given the (pardon the pun) astronomical amounts of data recorded by automated observatories. Planethunters.org is a crowdsourcing site that uses its members to spot anomalies in astronomical data – specifically light curves of stars from the Kepler mission. One of the things the human mind is very good at is discerning patterns in disparate sets of data, so it actually makes it easier to throw these data sets open to the public to spot patterns that might indicate a planetary transit.
If enough people spot the same anomaly, that star is marked for a follow up observation to check if an exoplanet has been found – and Kepler has confirmed the candidate exoplanet.
Named PH1 (Planet Hunters 1), the exoplanet has an apparent mass of 1.3 Earths, diameter a bit larger than that of Neptune and orbits at a radius of a bit less than a fifth of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. It orbits one pair of stars (that orbit around each other) that in turn orbit another pair of stars, with a center of gravity somewhere between the two pairs.
The find is the subject of a paper submitted to the Astrophyiscal Journal Letters, available at Arxiv.org.
“Planet Hunters: A Transiting Circumbinary Planet in a Quadruple Star System” – Megan E. Schwamb, Jerome A. Orosz, Joshua A. Carter, William F. Welsh, Debra A. Fischer, Guillermo Torres, Andrew W. Howard, Justin R. Crepp, William C. Keel, Chris J. Lintott, Nathan A. Kaib, Dirk Terrell,Robert Gagliano, Kian J. Jek, Michael Parrish, Arfon M. Smith, Stuart Lynn, Robert J. Simpson, Matthew J. Giguere, Kevin Schawinski – Arxiv.org