Yale grad student Joseph R. Schmitt says that the discovery of a new exoplanet was enabled by the work of volunteers in the Planet Hunters citizens science program. Schmitt is first author on a paper about the discovery:
We’re happy to announce the discovery of a new planet discovered by Planet Hunters volunteers, which is now published in The Astrophysical Journal. You can read the article for free on the arXiv here.
The star (PH3/Kepler-289/KOI-1353/KIC 7303287) is young and Sun-like. Two planets in the system, with periods of 35 and 126 days, had been previously validated statistically, the outer planet being a gas giant. However, Planet Hunters volunteers discovered a third transit signal between these two planets at a period of 66 days (PH3 c).
A quirk in the system allowed us to actually measure the mass of all the planets using only the exact times that each planet transited. The outer two planets, PH3 c and d, do not have a constant period like most planets do. Instead, it oscillates around an average value in a regular manner, which meant that it had been missed by computer algorithms but was easy to find for human eyes. In particular, the period of PH3 c changes by 10.5 hours in just 10 orbits due to the gravitational influence of the outer gas giant tugging on the middle planet. If Earth experienced such large changes, then if 2014 were 365 days long, 2024 would be 367.4 days long, almost two and a half days longer than 2014.
The new planet is about 2.7 times the radius of Earth and 4 times as massive. Its low density means that, despite its low mass, a large chunk of the planet must be composed of hydrogen and helium: 2% by mass and 50% by radius. The outer planet, on the other hand, is like a warm version of our Saturn, while the inner planet’s mass is poorly known. It could be mostly rocky, watery, or gassy.
We would like to thank all of the people involved in the project and all of the Planet Hunters volunteers for making this possible. We hope to find more gems like this in the future.