Great discoveries don’t always come from the brilliant minds of renowned scientists. Sometimes the most surprising findings arise from restless minds capable of providing a new vision. Proof of that is the unexpected discovery of a habitable exoplanet by a citizen science initiative in collaboration with researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Now, this finding has been presented to the American Astronomical Society in Seattle and the prestigious Astronomical Journal.
The newly discovered exoplanet K2-288Bb lies in the constellation Taurus, about 226 light years from Earth, where there is a pair of faint stars separated by approximately 8.2 million kilometers, nearly six times the distance between Saturn and the Sun. The data indicate that this “new world” would be about twice the size of the Earth and would also be located within the habitable zone of its host star where the range of orbital distances indicates the possible existence of liquid water on the surface.
“It is a very exciting discovery because of how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon (beyond the solar system),” said Adina Feinstein from the University of Chicago, and the study’s leading author, along with Makennah Bristow, a student at the University of North Carolina in Asheville, and Joshua Schlieder, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt (Maryland) and supervisor of the work.
Potentially Habitable Exoplanet Found By Amateur Astronomers
The story of this habitable exoplanet discovery began with the data from the fourth observation campaign of the Kepler Space Telescope’s K2 mission and, above all, with the initiative known as Exoplanet Explorers, in which the public is asked to participate in the search for possible traces that indicate the presence of an unknown celestial body.
After that citizen-based science initiative triggered the alarm signal, the experts came into play, monitoring observations of the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Keck II telescope of the WM Keck Observatory and the Infrared Telescope of NASA and data from the Gaia mission of ESA (European Space Agency). All those space telescopes confirmed the finding that now, after all the necessary verifications, has been officially presented as a habitable exoplanet.
“Inspecting, or examining, transits with the human eye is crucial because noise and other astrophysical events can imitate transits,” argues astrophysicist Joshua Schlieder about the newly discovered exoplanet. “The eyes of citizen [amateur] scientists made this finding extremely valuable,” Feinstein adds.
With over seven years of experience in online journalism, Vadim is passionate about everything related to science and the environment. For us, he will thus cover climate, environment, and science news, among others.