Citizen scientists have discovered a new planet orbiting a red star 226 light-years from Earth, in the Taurus constellation, and lies in a habitable zone where liquid water or life could exist, NBC News reports.
The planet, which is about twice the size of Earth, is known as K2-288Bb, and was found through analysis of data captured by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which ceased operations last October. Its discovery will be described in a paper that will be published in The Astronomical Journal, and will bring the number of confirmed exoplanets up to 3,869.
Scientists note that the planet is notable not just because it may sustain life, but also because it is one of the only moderately-sized planets to solitarily orbit a star near a stellar constellation.
“It will tell us something about the planetary formation process,” said University of Chicago astronomer Adina Feinstein, who is the lead author of the paper, in an email to NBC News MACH.
Members of the volunteer group Exoplanet Explorers made the discovery while sifting through data that the telescope collected while shifting into a new position. They noticed that the red star dimmed at three different points at regular intervals, suggesting an orbiting body blocking the light.
“We, the science team, initially missed this signal,” Feinstein added. “It took the eyes and excitement of the citizen scientists to draw our attention to this new planet.”