5 new planets discovered outside our solar system

Five new planets have been discovered outside our solar system, all orbiting a sun-like star located within the constellation Aquarius, nearly 620 light years from Earth. The alien worlds are considered super-Earths, sizing in at two to three times larger than our own blue planet. All five exoplanets are likely scorchingly hot: Each planet comes incredibly close to its star, streaking around in just 13 days at most — a whirlwind of an orbit compared with Earth’s 365-day year.

The planets also appear to orbit their star in concentric circles, forming a tightly packed planetary system, unlike our own elliptical, far-flung solar system. In fact, the size of each planet’s orbit appears to be a ratio of the other orbits — a configuration astronomers call “resonance” — suggesting that all five planets originally formed together in a smooth, rotating disc, and over eons migrated closer in toward their star. These new findings have been accepted to the Astrophysical Journal and were presented today by researchers from MIT and Caltech at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

“Leveraging the human cloud”

The researchers say the credit for this planetary discovery goes mainly to the citizen scientists — about 10,000 from the around the world — who pored through publicly available data from K2, a follow-on to NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope mission, which since 2009 has observed the sky for signs of Earth-like planets orbiting sun-like stars.

In 2013, a malfunction in one of the spacecraft’s wheels forced Kepler to end its continuous observations. However, the following year, scientists reprogrammed the spacecraft’s thrusters and remaining wheels, enabling the telescope to point at certain parts of the sky for limited periods. Scientists dubbed this new phase of the mission “K2,” and they have been collecting data from the rejiggered telescope for the last three years.

K2’s data comprises light curves — graphs of light intensity from individual stars in the sky. A dip in starlight indicates a possible transit, or crossing, of an object such as a planet in front of its star. The original Kepler mission was managed mostly by a dedicated team of trained scientists and astronomers who were tasked with analyzing incoming data, looking for transits, and classifying exoplanet candidates.

In contrast, K2 has been driven mainly by decentralized, community-led efforts. In 2017, Ian Crossfield, assistant professor of physics at MIT, who at the time was a Sagan Fellow at the University of California at Santa Cruz, worked with fellow astronomer Jesse Christiansen at Caltech to make the K2 data public and enlist as many volunteers as they could in the search for exoplanets. The team used a popular citizen-scientist platform called Zooniverse[1] to create its own project, dubbed Exoplanet Explorers.

The project was inspired by a similar effort via Zooniverse called Planet Hunters, which has enabled users to sift through and classify both Kepler and K2 data. For the Exoplanet Explorers project, Crossfield and Christiansen first ran a signal-detection algorithm to identify potential transit signals in the K2 data, then made those signals available on the Zooniverse platform. They designed a training program to first teach users what to look for in determining whether a signal is a planetary transit.

Users could then sift through actual light curves from the K2 mission and click “yes” or “no,” depending on whether they thought the curve looked like a transit. At least 10 users would have to look at a potential signal, and 90 percent of these users would have to vote “yes,” for Crossfield and Christiansen to consider the signal for further analysis. “We put all this data online and said to the public, ‘Help us find some planets,'” Crossfield says. “It’s exciting, because we’re getting the public excited about science, and it’s really leveraging the power of the human cloud.”

Planetary wheat and chaff

Several months into working with Zooniverse to get Exoplanet Explorers up and running, the researchers got a call from an Australian television program that was offering to feature the project on live television.

The team scrambled to launch the effort, and over two days in April, as the program was broadcast live, Exoplanet Explorers drew 10,000 users who started sifting through the K2 data. Over 48 hours, the users made nearly 2 million classifications from the available light curves. Crossfield and Christiansen, along with NASA astronomer Geert Barentsen, looked more closely at the classifications flagged by the public and determined that many of them were indeed objects of interest.

In particular, the effort identified 44 Jupiter-sized, 72 Neptune-sized, and 44 Earth-sized planets, as well as 53 so-called super Earths, which are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. One set of signals in particular drew the researchers’ interest. The signals appeared to resemble transits from five separate planets orbiting a single star, 190 parsecs, or 620 light years, away.

To follow up, they collected supporting data of the star taken previously from ground-based telescopes, which helped them to estimate the star’s size, mass, and temperature. They then took some additional measurements to ensure that it was indeed a single star, and not a cluster of stars. By looking closely at the light curves associated with the star, the researchers determined that it was “extremely likely” that five planet-like objects were crossing in front of the star.

From their estimates of the star’s parameters, they inferred the sizes of the five planets — between 2 and 2.9 times the size of the Earth — along with their orbits. The new system, which they have dubbed K2-138, represents the first planetary system identified by citizen scientists using K2 data. Crossfield says as more data becomes available from other observational campaigns, he hopes scientists and citizens can work together to uncover new astrophysical phenomena.

“It turns out the world is big enough that there’s a lot of people who are interested in doing some amateur science,” Crossfield says. “And the human eye in many cases is very effective in separating the planetary wheat from the nonplanetary chaff.” In particular, he envisions that the public will one day be able to analyze data taken by TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which is set to launch later this year. It’s an MIT-led mission that will survey the entire sky for exoplanets orbiting the brightest stars.

“We’re looking forward to more discoveries in the near future,” Crossfield says. “We hope that the TESS mission, which MIT is leading, will also be able to engage the public in this way.”

MIT News[2]

Now read: SpaceX launches secretive Zuma spacecraft[3]


  1. ^ Zooniverse (
  2. ^ MIT News (
  3. ^ SpaceX launches secretive Zuma spacecraft (

SpaceX Continues Torrid 2017 Launch Pace With Commercial High-Speed Inmarsat Broadband Satellite on May 15

SpaceX Continues Torrid 2017 Launch Pace With Commercial High-Speed Inmarsat Broadband Satellite On May 15

Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 (I-5 F4) satellite undergoes prelaunch processing for liftoff on SpaceX Falcon 9. Credit: Inmarsat

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – SpaceX1 is all set to continue their absolutely torrid launch pace2 in 2017 with a commercial High-Speed broadband satellite for Inmarsat on May 15 following Thursday’s successful completion of a critical static hot-fire test of the first stage. The positive outcome for the static fire test of the first stage engines of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday afternoon, May 11, paves the path to a Monday evening liftoff of the Inmarsat-5 F4 mission from the Florida Space Coast. Blastoff of the Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 communications satellite for commercial broadband provider Inmarsat is slated for Monday evening, May 15 at 7:20 p.m. EDT (2320 GMT) from SpaceX’s seaside Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“Static fire test of Falcon 9 complete,” SpaceX confirmed via social media only minutes after finishing the key test at 12:45 p.m.

EDT (1645 GMT).

“Targeting launch of Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 from Pad 39A on Monday, May 15.”

The launch window extends for 50 minutes until 8:10 p.m. EDT. The static fire test of all 9 Merlin 1 D first stage engines comes just 10 days after the last successful SpaceX Falcon 9 liftoff of the super secret NROL-76 payload3 for the National Reconnaissance Office, or NRO – as I reported here4.

“The countdown begins!” Inmarsat confirmed on the company website. The Inmarsat-5 F4 (I-5 F4) will become part of the firms Global Xpress network “which has been delivering seamless, high-speed broadband connectivity across the world since December 2015,” says Inmarsat.

For the purposes of the engine test only the first and second stages of the Falcon 9 were rolled up the pad and erected. Watch this cool video of Thursday’s engine test as seen from the National Wildlife Refuge near Playalinda Beach on the Atlantic Ocean.

embedded content

Video Caption: Static fire test of Falcon 9 booster for Inmarsat 5 F4 launch. Testing of the 9 Merlin 1D engines of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster on Pad 39A in preparation for launch of the Inmarsat 5 F4 satellite on May 15, 2017 from pad 39A at KSC. Credit: Jeff Seibert

Following the conclusion of the hot fire test the Falcon 9 was rolled back off the pad to the huge SpaceX processing hangar located just outside the pad perimeter fence.

SpaceX Continues Torrid 2017 Launch Pace With Commercial High-Speed Inmarsat Broadband Satellite On May 15

Static fire test of Falcon 9 completed on May 11. SpaceX targeting launch of Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 from Pad 39A on Monday, May 15. Credit: SpaceX

The Falcon 9 rocket and Inmarsat payload have now been mated to the payload adapted and encapsulation inside the nose cone following the test. The integrated rocket and payload eill soon be rolled about a quarter mile up the ramp at pad 39A to undergo final prelaunch preparations.

“The #I5F4 satellite has been successfully mated to the payload adaptor and attach fitting and encapsulated into the payload fairing in preparation for our SpaceX launch on 15 May,” Inmarsat stated.

“It’s an emotional time for our Inmarsat and The Boeing Company engineers – the satellite will not be seen again before it is launched into geostationary orbit, nearly 36,000km from Earth!”

“Catch all the live action here: #GlobalXpress #makingadifference”

SpaceX Continues Torrid 2017 Launch Pace With Commercial High-Speed Inmarsat Broadband Satellite On May 15

Inmarsat-5 Flight 4 (I-5 F4) satellite undergoes prelaunch processing for liftoff on SpaceX Falcon 9. Credit: Inmarsat

Inmarsat 5 F4 will be the sixth SpaceX launch of 2017 following the NROL-76 launch on May 1.

SpaceX Continues Torrid 2017 Launch Pace With Commercial High-Speed Inmarsat Broadband Satellite On May 15

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying classified NROL-76 surveillance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office successfully launches shortly after sunrise from Launch Complex 39A on 1 May 2017 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

1st stage accomplished successful ground landing at the Cape nine minutes later. Credit: Ken Kremer/

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Stay tuned here for Ken’s5 continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer6

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SpaceX Continues Torrid 2017 Launch Pace With Commercial High-Speed Inmarsat Broadband Satellite On May 15By 7

Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC,, Spaceflight Now, Science and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 70 launches including 8 shuttle launches.

He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight – Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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