NASA's Kepler Space Telescope data used to discover Multi-Planet System

K2-138 System Illustration

In a first for citizen science, a team of amateur astronomers-comprising thousands of volunteers-has discovered an entire planetary system, BBC News reports. The planetary system is believed to be made up of five alien planets, all of which are considered to be super-Earths.

After the discovery was announced on Stargazing Live, Christiansen and her colleagues continued to study and characterize the system, dubbed K2-138. There's no way water would exist on the surface, as portrayed here.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how it was discovered, let's dive in and take a look at the new star system.

But the way the chain is configured in K2-138 is different to Trappist-1 and unique among exoplanetary neighbourhoods. The star itself is a main sequence K-star, or orange dwarf, a type of star that feature masses between 0.45 and 0.8 times that of the Sun.

The alien worlds, all orbiting a Sun-like star located within the constellation Aquarius, are considered superEarths, sizing in at two to three times larger than our own planet, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States said. They are all being classified as super-Earths, weighing in at about two to three times larger than our planet. Due to their close proximity to the star, these planets are nearly certainly uninhabitable.

Abundant evidence in the solar system suggests that Jupiter and Saturn disrupted our systems early structure, resulting in the four widely-spaced terrestrial planets we have today, researchers said. But the story of how K2-138 was discovered is also pretty neat. The group of five planets, all smaller than Neptune, was found by citizen scientists scouring data from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, which measures light from distant stars.

From these spectra, the researchers measured precise sizes of the stars and their planets. Known as the C12 dataset, this represents a disgusting amount of data for scientists to sift through.

According to Nasa, a new batch of 2017 Kepler data was recently uploaded to the Exoplanets Explorers.

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"People anywhere can log on and learn what real signals from exoplanets look like, and then look through actual data collected from the Kepler telescope to vote on whether or not to classify a given signal as a transit, or just noise", said co-author Dr Jesse Christiansen, from Caltech in Pasadena.

It was featured on a program called Stargazing Live on the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Audience members were encouraged to participate by parsing through the data in search of candidate exoplanets. Users would look through the data, and indicate for each graph whether they thought the curve looked like a transit or not.

At least 10 users would have to look at a potential signal, and 90 per cent of these users would have to vote "yes", for researchers to consider the signal for further analysis. In the first 48 hours after the project was introduced, Exoplanet Explorers received over 2 million classifications from more than 10,000 users. "But those can take a while to validate, to make sure that it really is a real planet and not a false alarm".

"That's a really tantalising clue that we may be missing more planets in this system".

They also found that planets orbiting the same star tend to have a regular orbital spacing. Three of the four planets had 100 percent "yes" votes from over 10 people, and the remaining one had 92 percent "yes" votes.

A discovery by citizen scientists has led to the confirmation of a system of five planets orbiting a far-off star.

Yay, citizen scientists! More of this, please.

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