BBC has one for the planet hunters – or, indeed, for Planethunters.org, which has just discovered a truly bizarre solar system using a pretty offbeat method:
The planet, located just under 5,000 light-years away, has been named PH1 after the Planet Hunters site.
It is thought to be a “gas giant” slightly larger than Neptune but more than six times the size of the Earth.
“You don’t have to go back too far before you would have got really good odds against one of these systems existing,” Dr Chris Lintott, from the University of Oxford, told BBC News.
“All four stars pulling on it creates a very complicated environment. Yet there it sits in an apparently stable orbit.
“That’s really confusing, which is one of the things which makes this discovery so fun. It’s absolutely not what we would have expected.”
PH1 was discovered by two US volunteers using the Planethunters.org website: Kian Jek of San Francisco and Robert Gagliano from Cottonwood, Arizona.
They spotted faint dips in light caused by the planet passing in front of its parent stars. The team of professional astronomers then confirmed the discovery using the Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
Founded in 2010, Planethunters.org aims to harness human pattern recognition to identify transits in publicly available data gathered by Nasa’s Kepler Space Telescope.
Volunteers are asked to draw boxes to mark the locations of visible transits – when a planet passes in front of its parent star.
Dr Lintott points out: “Computerised attempts to find things [in the data] missed this system entirely. That tells you there are probably more of these that are slipping through our fingers. We’ve just stuck a load of new data up on Planethunters.org to help people find the next one.”
That’s Planethunters.org, if you, y’know, want to help make the next historic discovery.