from the stargazing dept.
A system of at least five exoplanets has been discovered by citizen scientists through a project called Exoplanet Explorers, part of the online platform Zooniverse, using data from NASA's Kepler space telescope. This is the first multi-planet system discovered entirely through crowdsourcing. A study describing the system has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.
Thousands of citizen scientists got to work on Kepler data in 2017 when Exoplanet Explorers launched. It was featured on a program called Stargazing Live on the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). On the final night of the three-day program, researchers announced the discovery of a four-planet system. Since then, they have named it K2-138 and determined that it has a fifth planet -- and perhaps even a sixth, according to the new paper.
The K2-138 System: A Near-resonant Chain of Five Sub-Neptune Planets Discovered by Citizen Scientists (open, DOI: 10.3847/1538-3881/aa9be0) (DX) (arXiv)
After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of hidden planets - more planets even than stars - NASA's Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations. NASA has decided to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 planet discoveries from outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life.
"As NASA's first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars."
Earlier this week, NASA's Kepler team received an indication that the spacecraft fuel tank is running very low. NASA has placed the spacecraft in a hibernation-like state in preparation to download the science data collected in its latest observation campaign. Once the data has been downloaded, the expectation is to start observations for the next campaign with any remaining fuel.
[...] To bring the data home, the spacecraft must point its large antenna back to Earth and transmit the data during its allotted Deep Space Network time, which is scheduled in early August. Until then, the spacecraft will remain stable and parked in a no-fuel-use safe mode. On August 2, the team will command the spacecraft to awaken from its no-fuel-use state and maneuver the spacecraft to the correct orientation and downlink the data. If the maneuver and download are successful, the team will begin its 19th observation campaign on August 6 with the remaining fuel.
Related: Google Researchers Discover an 8th Planet in the Kepler-90 System
Citizen Scientists Credited for Discovery of Multi-Planet System
Kepler's K2 Mission Going Strong With Another 95 New Exoplanets Confirmed
NASA's TESS Mission Set to Launch on Wednesday, April 18