The Planet Hunters team from Zooniverse — which includes citizen scientist volunteers from all over the world — has submitted their first journal paper for peer review and possible publication announcing two confirmed planets outside our familiar solar system.
Using public light curve data generated from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, a mass of citizen scientists sorted through and visually evaluated a mountain of data points identifying possible signals of planets crossing the paths of stars in a tiny corner of the Universe. The ten best candidates from the first batch of data was submitted to other ground-based telescopes for further observations. Two of the ten candidates have been re-observed and confirmed by the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, which firmly demonstrates the true power of how citizen scientists can be involved in serious scientific advancement.
The two identified exoplanets are both much larger than Earth with diameters of about 21,000 miles and 64,000 miles across (our small Earth is only about 8,000 miles wide), and have very tight orbits around their stars at about 10 days and 50 days, respectively. The light curve data for these two stars, SPH 10125117 and SPH 10100751, may be viewed through the Planet Hunters interface, and you may try out your own analysis to find the tell-tale signature of planets passing through the observational plane of its host star.
The complete paper submitted by Planet Hunters may be read online through the arXiv.org database or downloaded directly as a PDF document: “Planet Hunters: The First Two Planet Candidates Identified by the Public using the Kepler Public Archive Data“.
You may also learn more about the Planet Hunters program and a more detailed review of planet hunting techniques from Dynamic Patterns Research. Please let us know if you have been participating in the Planet Hunting program, or if you have any questions about getting involved now. The importance of discovering planets outside our solar system will certainly prove to be critical to our great++ grandchildren and we, as active citizen scientists, can be a valuable resource toward making these scientific efforts more cost effective, efficient, and accurate.