Web users locate two new potential planets

September 22nd, 2011 - 10:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 22 (IANS) Forty thousand web users worldwide have been assisting astronomers analyze light from 150,000 stars in hopes of finding earth-like or exoplanets. Now the web users have discovered two such potential plants.

Citizen scientists, under the project Planet Hunters launched last December, analyzed real scientific data collected by NASA’s Kepler mission. The mission has been searching for planets beyond our own solar system - called exoplanets, since its launch in March 2009.

The astronomers at the Yale University have announced the first two potential exoplanets discovered by Planet Hunters users, the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society reports.

“This is the first time that the public has used data from a NASA space mission to detect possible planets orbiting other stars,” said Yale astronomer Debra Fischer, who helped launch the Planet Hunters project.

The candidate planets orbit their host stars with periods ranging from 10 to 50 days - much shorter than the 365 days it takes the Earth to orbit the Sun - and have radii that range in size from two-and-a-half to eight times the Earth’s radius, according to a NASA statement.

Despite those differences, one of the two candidates could be a rocky planet similar to the size of the Earth (as opposed to a giant gas planet like Jupiter), although they aren’t in the so-called “habitable zone” where water and therefore life as we know it, could exist.

Next, the Planet Hunters team used the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to analyze the host stars.

“I think there’s a 95 percent chance or greater that these are bona fide planets,” Fischer said.

“These. . . candidates might have gone undetected without Planet Hunters and its citizen scientists,” said Meg Schwamb, Yale researcher and Planet Hunters co-founder.

“Obviously Planet Hunters doesn’t replace the analysis being done by the Kepler team. But it has proven itself to be a valuable tool in the search for other worlds,” added Schwamb.

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