A team of amateur astronomers have discovered evidence for 42 new exoplanets or alien planets. One of the planets is a Jupiter-size world that is potentially habitable. They made the discovery while sifting through data from a NASA spacecraft.
According to Space.com, 40 volunteers working with the crowd-sourcing Planet Hunters project discovered the new planet candidates which include about 15-20 planets that are potentially habitable.
One of the planet candidates is PH2 b, a Jupiter-size planet that the team has confirmed to be located in the so-called habitable zone of its host star. Astronomers estimate that the atmospheric temperature on PH2 b would range between 86 and minus 126 degrees Fahrenheit (30 and minus 88 degrees Celsius).
According to Sci-News, PH2 b was detected around the Sun-like star KIC 12735740. Space.com reports that planet PH2 b was found using data from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. The find was confirmed with 99.9 percent confidence by observations at the W.M Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
PH2 b is reportedly the second exoplanet confirmed by planet hunters at Planethunters.org.
Amateur planet hunters detected PH2 b by monitoring the dimming of apparent brightness of the parent star as the candidate planet passed its front. Beside this technique, planet hunters also employ a technique that detects wobbles in the star's gravity as the suspected planet orbits around it.
According to the authors of the paper, announcing the new planet candidates, the latest discoveries "nearly double the number of gas giant planet candidates orbiting at habitable zone distance."
All the new planets, beside PH2 b, are awaiting confirmation by professional astronomers.
According to the authors, the rich haul of planets in the so-called Goldilocks zone ("Not too hot, not too cold zone" with conditions that allow liquid water to exist on the planet) around a star, could mean that the universe is teeming with planets that have potential to support life.
Space.com reports that according to the University of Oxford's Chris Lintott, who oversees the Zooniverese project, and co-authored the paper, "[The new planets] are planet candidates that slipped through the net, being missed by professional astronomers and rescued by volunteers in front of their web browsers: It's remarkable to think that absolutely anyone can discover a planet."
Professor Debra Fisher of Yale University, said: "We are seeing the emergence of a new era in the Planet Hunters project where our volunteers seem to be at least as efficient as the computer algorithms at finding planets orbiting at habitable zone distances from the host stars. Now, the hunt is not just targeting any old exoplanet – volunteers are homing in on habitable worlds."
Lintott added: "There’s an obsession with finding Earth-like planets but what we are discovering, with planets such as PH2 b, is far stranger.
"Jupiter has several large water-rich moons – imagine dragging that system into the comfortably warm region where the Earth is. If such a planet had Earth size moons, we’d see not Europa and Callisto but worlds with rivers, lakes and all sorts of habitats – a surprising scenario that might just be common."
The researcher authors explained that If a moon of PH2 b were to host life, it would likely have a rocky core, like our Earth, including a greenhouse atmosphere that could retain liquid.
Ji Wang, post-doctoral researcher at the Yale University, and lead author of the paper, said: "It’s very similar to what was depicted in the movie ‘Avatar’ – the habitable moon Pandora around a giant planet, Polyphemus."
He added: "We can speculate that PH2 b might have a rocky moon that would be suitable for life. I can’t wait for the day when astronomers report detecting signs of life on other worlds instead of just locating potentially habitable environments. That could happen any day now."
According to Sci-news, more than 40 volunteers are acknowledged in the paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal which may be viewed on the pre-publishing website Arxiv.
One of the volunteers is Roy Jackson, a 71-year-old retired police officer. He said: "It is difficult to put into words, the pleasure, wonderment and perhaps even pride that I have in some small way been able to assist in the discovery of a planet. But I would like to say that the discovery makes the time spent on the search well worth the effort."
Mark Hadley, an electronic engineer from Faversham, said: "Now, when people ask me what I achieved last year I can say I have helped discover a possible new planet around a distant star! How cool is that?"
Planet Hunters have now found 48 candidate planets. The first candidate confirmed in October 2011 was planet PH1.
Anyone interested in participating in the Planet Hunters project, may visit here.