spaceSpace and Physics

Scientists Discover 100 New Potential Exoplanets But Need Your Help To Find More


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockFeb 14 2017, 16:39 UTC

GJ 411 and its candidate planet in an artist impression. Ricardo Ramirez.

Scientists have just released 20 years' worth of high-precision stellar data, which has led to the discovery of 100 new exoplanet candidates. But many more could be hiding in the data and the researchers are hoping to get a helping hand from citizen scientists.

The data set, presented in the Astrophysical Journal, includes almost 61,000 measurements for 1,638 stars and covers two decades of measurements.


“This is an amazing catalog, and we realized there just aren’t enough of us on the team to be doing as much science as could come out of this dataset,” Dr Jennifer Burt, from MIT, said in a statement. “We’re trying to shift toward a more community-oriented idea of how we should do science, so that others can access the data and see something interesting.”

The team has made the measurements available to download on their website. To analyze the data (and hopefully discover something) you will have to download and use the open source software Systemic. Don't worry, the team has provided a tutorial on how to use it.

The data looks at the radial velocity of the stars, an indirect technique that uses changes to the spectrum of light to estimate if a planet is there or not. The light of the star slightly changes as the planets make it wobble. It’s not a foolproof method and scientists have to take into account many potential variables before claiming a detection.


“We were very conservative in this paper about what counts as an exoplanet candidate and what does not, and even with our stringent criteria, we found over 100 new likely planet candidates,” co-author Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire stated.

One of the newly proposed planets orbits GJ 411, the fourth closest star to the Sun. The planet around it is not really an Earth-twin. It is almost four times as massive as our planet and it orbits the star, which is 40 percent the mass of the Sun, in just nine days.  

The data was collected by HIRES, an instrument installed on the Keck-I telescope, which is located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.


"HIRES was not specifically optimized to do this type of exoplanet detective work, but has turned out to be a workhorse instrument of the field," added Steve Vogt of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who built the instrument. "I am very happy to contribute to science that is fundamentally changing how we view ourselves in the universe."

This is not the first citizen science project on exoplanet search. Planter Hunter, a Zooniverse project, has used data from Kepler and K2, and citizen scientists have already discovered a new world using that. 

But this is another chance to get involved, whether you are a scientist or a space-lover, who doesn't want to discover a planet?

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