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Citizen Scientists Discover Planet with Four Suns
© Image: Haven Giguere / Yale

Citizen Scientists Discover Planet with Four Suns

Crowdsourced science website Planet Hunters, which enlists citizen scientists to comb through public astronomical data, recently uncovered a four-star planet lurking in NASA’s Kepler data.

In an Astrophysical Journal paper co-authored by volunteers Robert Gagliano and Kian Jek, the citizen scientists responsible for the discovery, the Planet Hunters team details the blazing hot planet. Named “PH1” in honor of Planet Hunter’s first extrasolar planet sighting, the gas giant is about six times the radius of Earth and sits roughly 3,200 light-years from our blue-green planet. PH1 is part of what’s called a circumbinary system, in which it orbits not one, but two stars. More remarkably, a distant pair of stars orbits the entire planetary system, according to NASA

Translation: if one were to stand on PH1's (admittedly uninhabitable) surface, she could gaze skyward and see four suns.

"I celebrate this discovery for the wow-factor of a planet in a four-star system," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. "Most importantly, I celebrate this discovery as the fruit of exemplary human cooperation — cooperation between scientists and citizens who give of themselves for the love of stars, knowledge, and exploration."

Planet Hunters is part of the Zooniverse network, which operates citizen science ventures Galaxy Zoo, Cyclone Center, and Seafloor Explorer, among others. To learn more about Zooniverse, check out our previous coverage of the open science organization.

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