Two NASA interns and a team of amateur astronomers have found a new ‘super Earth’.
The discovery, known as K2-288Bb, is said to be roughly twice the size of earth and is particularly exciting astronomers as it is located within its star’s habitable zone, raising hopes that it could contain life.
Located 226 light-years away int he constellation Taurus, the new planet could be rocky or a gas-rich planet similar to Neptune according to NASA.
“It’s a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon,” said Adina Feinstein, a University of Chicago graduate student, who is also the lead author of a paper describing the new planet accepted for publication by The Astronomical Journal.
‘Super Earth’ lies in a stellar system known as K2-288, which contains a pair of dim cool stars around 5.1 billion miles apart. The brighter star is about half as big as the sun, while the other is about one-third of the sun’s size.
This new planet orbits the smaller star every 31.3 days.
The initial discovery was made back in 2017, Feinstein and Makennah Bristow, an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina Asheville, worked as interns with Joshua Schlieder, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
They searched Kepler telescope data for evidence of transits – the regular dimming of a star when an orbiting planet moves across the face of it.
During their research of data from the fourth batch of observations from Kepler’s K2 mission, the three of them noticed that there were two likely planetary transits.
However a third transit was needed before they could say for definite that they had discovered a new planet. initially they could not find this, though they eventually realised they had not been looking at all of the information.
In May 2017, this third transit was finally found and hte paper has now been accepted for publication by The Astronomical Journal.
Feinstein said: “That’s how we missed it – and it took the keen eyes of citizen scientists to make this extremely valuable find and point us to it.
“It’s a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon.”