A team of amateur astronomers has made a fascinating discovery, uncovering evidence of 42 alien planets, one of which is roughly the size of Jupiter and could potentially be habitable by humans.
Among the 42 planets discovered by the group, 15 have the potential to support human life. One in particular, named PH2 b, is roughly the size of Jupiter and has been confirmed to exist in its star’s habitable zone.
The so-called Goldilocks zone around a star refers to the ideal distance between a planet and a star, allowing the planet to feature both a breathable atmosphere and liquid water. The discovery of several new planets in this zone means that planets capable of supporting life may be much less rare than previously believed.
The Planet Hunters project has received considerable praise from the scientific community in light of its recent discoveries.
"These are planet candidates that slipped through the net, being missed by professional astronomers and rescued by volunteers in front of their Web browsers,” said Chris Lintott, the director of Zooniverse, which is associated with both Planet Hunters and the University of Oxford. “It's remarkable to think that absolutely anyone can discover a planet.”
To determine the characteristics and locations of the 42 planets discovered by the amateur group, Planet Hunters members pored over data collected by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. NASA provides such data to the public partly in the hope that amateur groups such as Planet Hunters will make discoveries exactly like this one.
In one of the most interesting discoveries related to the 42 planets, Space.com reported, the planet PH2 b is likely too large to host life itself, but may have several moons that could support life. While the planet itself would suffer from temperature swings ranging between 86 and -126 degrees Fahrenheit (between 30 and -88 degrees Celsius), the planet’s moons would be perfect candidates to support life.
“Any moon around this newly discovered, Jupiter-sized planet might be habitable," Ji Wang, a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University, told Space.com. Wang is the author of a paper about the 42 planets, which has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal.
“It’s very similar to what was depicted in the movie ‘Avatar’ -- the habitable moon Pandora around a giant planet, Polyphemus," Wang said of the planet’s unique properties.
This is not the first time Planet Hunters has made a landmark discovery of planets outside our solar system. As Space.com reported in October, the group found evidence of a new planet similar to Tatooine -- featured in the “Star Wars” film saga -- in that the planet, PH1, orbits around two suns.