ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A group of citizen scientists and professional scientist collaborators have discovered a gaseous planet similar to the size of Jupiter. The discovery was uncovered by Tom Jacobs, a citizen scientist from Bellevue, Washington that goes through NASA telescope data who then notified two scientists, Paul Dalba, an astronomer at the University of California, Riverside, and assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, Diana Dragomir.
NASA states that this planet is a gas giant that is roughly 379-light years from Earth that orbits a star with the same mass as the sun for a 261 day year. The planet is particularly notable as its year is long when compared to many known gas giants that are outside of our solar system. NASA reports that the discovery of the planet also suggests that it is slightly farther from its star than Venus is from the Sun.
The planet’s signature was found in data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).
According to NASA, Jacobs is a member of a citizen scientists group that looks at plots of data from TESS which shows the change in a star’s brightness over time and can uncover new planets. A news release from NASA explains that while professional astronomers use algorithms to scan tens of thousands of data points from stars automatically, citizen scientists use a separate program, LcTools, to analyze telescope data by eye.
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Jacobs, on Feb. 1, 2020, reportedly discovered a plot showing starlight from TOI-2180 b dim and then return to its previous brightness level over a 24-hour period. Researchers believe this can be explained by a passing planet. Jacob’s group of citizen scientists then notified two professional scientist collaborators, Dalba and Dragomir.
NASA reports that using computer algorithms, professional astronomers search for multiple transit events from a single star which makes the work of citizen scientists particularly useful when there is only one transit available. As it is the only instance of the TOI-2180 b star dimming in the dataset, it is called a “single transit event”.
The planet TOI-2180 b is reportedly three times more massive than Jupiter though it has the same diameter. This means the planet is denser than Jupiter and is making scientists question if it was formed in a different way. NASA states the gas giant exoplanet has a mass of 2.755 Jupiters. NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration website feature allows users to view the planet and compare it to Earth and view its system.
The discovery of the planet was initially published in the “Astronomical Journal” on January 13, 2022.
NASA provides various opportunities for citizen science collaborations with topics that range from Earth science to the Sun and more. Anyone can participate. Information is available at science.nasa.gov/citizenscience.