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Citizen scientists discover new rocky planets locked in resonance

It is easier than ever to contribute to science, and this study proves it best. Amateur astronomers using an online platform have discovered five rocky planets orbiting a distant star.

To make things even more exciting, the planets orbit in an interesting mathematical relationship called the resonance chain: each planet takes 50% longer to orbit than the previous one.

Citizen scientists

In March 2017, the initial prototype of Exoplanet Explorers was created on Zooniverse, a citizen science web portal based at the University of Oxford. The Exoplanet explorers had amateur astronomers who analyzed data from the traces of the NASA Kepler telescope: data that had never been analyzed by astronomers. Just 48 hours after the project was launched, researchers had received 2 million ratings of more than 10,000 users.

"People anywhere can log in and learn how the real signals of the exoplanets are and then consult the actual data collected from the Kepler telescope to vote whether or not a signal is classified as transit, or simply as noise", said coauthor Dr. Jessie Christiansen, of Caltech in Pasadena.

The system required several people to examine the data and indicate an interesting objective.

"We have every potential traffic signal seen by a minimum of 10 people, and each one needs a minimum of 90 percent of the votes – yes – to be considered for further characterization," Christiansen.

After going through the whole data set, the scientists analyzed the demography of the discovered planets: 44 planets the size of Jupiter, 72 of size Neptune, 44 the size of the Earth and 53 assumptions of the Super Earth, rocky planets larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune.

Astronomers were delighted to see that among the findings was a system of five planets, all of which were slightly larger than Earth, ranging between 1.6 and 3.3 times the radius of the Earth. The planets are blocked in a phenomenon called orbital resonance. This means that there is a simple mathematical relationship between the orbital periods of the planets. In this case, it is 3: 2 – the orbit of each planet is 50% longer than the previous one. This resonance chain of five planets is the longest ever discovered, although other chains have also been discovered.

"The orbital architecture similar to a clock of this planetary system deeply resembles the Galilean satellites of Jupiter," says Konstantin Batygin, assistant professor of planetary sciences and Van Nuys Page Scholar, who was not involved in the study. "The orbital commensurabilities between the planets are fundamentally fragile, so the current configuration of the planets K2-138 clearly points to a laminar and milder formation environment of these distant worlds."

Space music

This unusual relationship levels off more interesting. The data also revealed a sixth planet, still in resonance, but omitting two slots in the resonance chain. This could indicate that a planet is missing, or could indicate another unknown process.

It is even more intriguing that this resonance coincides with a perfect fifth, an interval that is commonly found in music. However, the interval is not exactly perfect. Instead of the ratio being exactly 1.5 (3: 2), it is 1,513, 1,518, 1,528, and 1,544, respectively. This produces another similarity to music, where musicians often tune their instruments a little away from a perfect fifth to avoid the annoying "heartbeat" that occurs when the tuning is too perfect.

Planets are locked in orbital resonance, as a fifth perfect musical. Image via Wikipedia.

Even so, the most interesting thing about these planets is the way they were found. Nowadays, there is too much data available and there are not enough researchers to analyze them. The algorithms are also limited in their scope. Having the pure brain processing power of thousands of volunteers is simply irreplaceable.

"It's really hard to tell the computer to find everything that looks like a blip, but not that" kind of blip "or" that "type of blip or & nbsp; # 39; that kind of blip, so we asked the computer to find all the notices and we'll check it out. "

"We just loaded 55,000 new potential planetary signals," says Christiansen. "We could never overcome all the signals we have without our volunteers."

The study was published in the online edition of The Astronomical Journal .

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