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Citizen Scientists Find Exoplanet

By David Reneke

News from the space and astronomy communities around the world.

David Reneke is an astronomy lecturer and teacher, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers and magazines, and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Subscribe to David’s free Astro-Space newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A joint effort of citizen scientists and professional astronomers has led to the first reported case of a planet orbiting twin suns that in turn is orbited by a second distant pair of stars.

Aided by volunteers using the planethunters.org website, a Yale-led international team of astronomers identified and confirmed the discovery of the phenomenon, which is called a “circumbinary planet” in a four-star system.

Only six planets are known to orbit two stars, and none of these are orbited by distant stellar companions. “Circumbinary planets are the extremes of planet formation,” said Meg Schwamb of Yale. “The discovery of these systems is forcing us to go back to the drawing board to understand how such planets can assemble and evolve in these dynamically challenging environments.”

Dubbed PH1, the planet was first identified by citizen scientists participating in Planet Hunters, a Yale-led program that enlists the public to review astronomical data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft for signs of planets. It is the project’s first confirmed planet.

The volunteers, Kian Jek of San Francisco and Robert Gagliano of Cottonwood, Arizona, spotted faint dips in light caused by the planet as it passed in front of its parent stars. This “transit” method is a common technique for finding extrasolar planets.

Schwamb led the team of professional astronomers...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.