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Planet Hunter Volunteers Discover 15 Potentially Habitable Planets, Still No Way to Get There


Planet Hunters is a project that enlists the help of “citizen scientists” to help sort through the extensive data provided by NASA’s Kepler mission. 15 new planets have been discovered by Planet Hunters that fall into the habitable, or “Goldilocks” zone, where the planet is at the right distance from a star to have liquid water. The discovery of the planets could mean there are many more of these worlds than initially thought, which is good news for anyone desperate to get off this planet just as soon as possible.

Planet Hunters is part of the Oxford University project Zooniverse. The volunteers behind Planet Hunters examine brightness measurements taken by Kepler for over 150,000 stars looking for signs that there could be planets orbiting them. When a planet passes in front of a star, there should a noticeable and temporary drop in brightness.

One of the planets discovered was confirmed by the Keck telescope. It is roughly the size of Jupiter and orbits a star similar to our Sun. That planet has been named “PH2 b,” perhaps standing for “Planet Hunters 2 b,” since it is the second planet discovered by Planet Hunters to be confirmed. Dr. Ji Wang of Yale University has great expectations for PH2 b, saying:

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.

That certainly would be exciting, though for now we’ll settle for the excitement we can get, and a sudden population explosion of habitable planets certainly qualifies.

The paper announcing the discovery of the planets was submitted to Astrophysical Journal and has more than 40 Planet Hunter volunteers listed as authors. The project counts on the human brain to be better at analyzing the data from Kepler than current computer algorithms, and with the host of new discoveries, it looks as if they may be on to something.

Mark Hadley, one of the volunteers listed as an author of the paper, 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?’

It’s pretty cool, Mark. Pretty cool indeed.

If you’d like to be cool like Mark, you can find more information about the Planet Hunters at their website

(via Oxford University, image via Futurilla)

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Glen is a comedian, writer, husband, and father. He won his third-grade science fair and is a former preschool science teacher, which is a real job.