Amateur astronomers have discovered 15 objects circling distant stars that they believe may be exoplanets capable of supporting life.
Working on the Planethunters website, dozens of volunteers scanned data collected by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, looking for cyclical dips in the brightness of individual stars. The dips suggest an orbiting planet is passing in front of its host star, periodically blocking its light.
The new-found bodies are orbiting in the so-called habitable zone of their respective stars, a region where the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist, a key condition for life.
One Jupiter-size object has been officially confirmed as an exoplanet, named ‘PH2 b’. Yale University astronomer Ji Wang speculates it might have an Earth-like moon that could harbor life.
Planethunters’ volunteers have discovered 43 possible planets by analyzing Kepler’s data on-line. Project lead scientist, Yale professor Debra Fisher points out the amateur astronomers are as efficient at finding exoplanets as computer algorithms. Among the volunteers credited with finding PH2 b are a retired police officer and an electronics engineer.