Australian volunteer scientists find four-planet solar system

7 April 2017

Written by: Keely Lowry

Four previously unknown planets have been found by Australian volunteer scientists following a crowd-sourcing project aired on the ABC’s Stargazing Live program.

On Tuesday night, viewers of Stargazing Live were encouraged to search through observations on the Zooniverse website.

Featuring recently downloaded data from the Kepler Space Telescope, the amateur astronomers had around 100,000 stars to trawl through.

 Within 48 hours, four planets were confirmed to be orbiting a star in earth’s interstellar neighbourhood.

Principal investigator of Zooniverse, Dr Chris Lintott, told the ABC that the planets are approximately double the size of earth.

Found within the Aquarius constellation, the planets are estimated to be 600 light years away.

Time within the new solar system was also discovered to pass quite differently to Earth.

“They’re all much closer to the star than even Mercury is to the sun,” Dr Lintott said.

“The closest of them whips around in just three and a half day’s, so a year is only three and a half days long.”

The viewers who identified the new system will be credited as the co-authors on a scientific paper about the discovery.

Andrew Grey, a mechanic from Darwin, was one of the volunteers responsible for the discovery.

He was informed on Stargazing Live that he would be credited in a scientific paper of the discovery.

“That is amazing. Definitely my first scientific publication,” he said.

“[I’m] just glad that I can contribute. It feels very good.”

Stargazing Live host professor Brian Cox expressed his excitement.

“In the seven years I’ve been making Stargazing Live this is the most significant scientific discovery we’ve ever made,” he told ABC News.

“The results are astonishing.”

Although the planets are most likely rocky and too hot to support human life, Dr Lintott said the discovery was important.

“I’m very encouraged that, at least with the help of ABC, it’s possible to get through large amounts of data very quickly,” he said.