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Citizen Scientists on Zooniverse Project "Exoplanet Explorers" Help Find New World

By Nayiri Mullinix

"This discovery of a planet in the habitable zone of its star is so exciting for the Zooniverse and our volunteers. It was made possible by the efforts of volunteers on Exoplanet Explorers, the project that has followed on from the success of the original Zooniverse planet-finding project, Planet Hunters."

Grant Miller, Zooniverse Community Manager

Scientists needed one final piece of evidence to declare K2-288Bb a new planet, and they recently got that final piece thanks to citizen scientists. The new planet is an exoplanet which was discovered using NASA's Kepler space telescope and is about twice the size of Earth.

Data from the Kepler space telescope was initially analyzed using early versions of software built to prepare the data for planet-finding analysis. The data ignored the first few days of observations. As systematic errors in the software were corrected, the trimming step was eliminated and the data, including data from the first few days, eventually re-ran in the modified software. The last step required human eyes that could inspect and vet the data. 

The re-processed data was posted directly to Exoplanet Explorers, a Zooniverse project where citizen scientists searched Kepler's observations. In May 2017, volunteers found the final piece of evidence needed to identify K2-288Bb as a new planet. 

When asked for comment on this achievement, Zooniverse Community Manager and SGCI Steering Committee member Grant Miller said, "This discovery of a planet in the habitable zone of its star is so exciting for the Zooniverse and our volunteers. It was made possible by the efforts of volunteers on Exoplanet Explorers, the project that has followed on from the success of the original Zooniverse planet-finding project, Planet Hunters. All going well they will have more planets to announce in the near future. In addition to this, Planet Hunters is back with a whole new project looking at data from NASA's brand new space telescope TESS. Planet Hunters TESS only launched on the Zooniverse at the very end of 2018 but volunteers have already identified multiple planet candidates, some of which will be confirmed as planets in the coming weeks. All of this serves as a reminder that there are still amazing discoveries to be made by volunteers online, as machine algorithms cannot spot many of the more interesting planets, and there is just too much data for the small research teams to go through."

Read the whole story here.


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