When we're kids, we all dream of making an amazing discovery that we can tell the world about. Unusual rocks, strangely shaped fallen branches, twigs and seashells seem remarkable in our eyes and in the eyes of those who love us, but they're hardly a find of epic proportions. But no matter a person's age, out-of-this-world discoveries do happen, and two citizen scientists have their own planet to prove it.
Robert Gagliano of Cottonwood, Ariz., and Kian Jek of San Francisco found a new planet that has four suns. In fact, it is the first known quadruple-sun system of its kind. It is believed to be a gas planet with a radius more than six times that of Earth -- making it even bigger than Neptune. Gagliano and Jek are volunteer members of Yale University's Planet Hunters, a program that enlists the public to review astronomical data from NASA's Kepler telescope. The telescope is valued at $600 million, and its data is made available to the public online.
While reviewing the information provided by NASA, Gagliano and Jek found deviations that confirmed the existence of the new planet, which they named PH1, short for Planet Hunters 1 -- the group's first official heavenly body. PH1 orbits a pair of eclipsing stars that are 1.5 and 0.41 times the mass of the sun roughly every 138 days. Two other stars orbit PH1's twin stars. Debra Fischer, a member of Planet Hunters, said of Gagliano and Jek's discovery, "This unique system might have been entirely missed if not for the sharp eyes of the public."
The discovery of PH1 was announced Monday night at the annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Reno, Nev.