Using the tool pictured above, volunteers discovered 15 habitable exoplanets (Photo : Oxford University)
Thanks to the efforts of forty volunteers scouring through NASA's Kepler mission data, fifteen previously undiscovered planets have been found in habitable regions of space. Each of the planet hunters used a freely available online tool which presents brightness measurements of far away stars, a project spearheaded by Oxford University.
While most of the planets are still being investigated, NASA has confirmed the presence of the exoplanet "PH2 b". Like the other habitable bodies found, PH2 b has sufficient atmospheric conditions to allow for the presence of water.
"We can speculate that PH2 b might have a rocky moon that would be suitable for life," says Yale University's Dr. Ji Wang. "I can't wait for the day when astronomers report detecting signs of life on other worlds instead of just locating potentially habitable environments. That could happen any day now."
Despite their expertise, seasoned astronomers are a limited resource. Yet, with the helping hands of countless eager spectators, the pace of extraterrestrial discoveries has naturally spiked.
Dr. Debra Fisher of Yale University suggests that "We are seeing the emergence of a new era in the Planet Hunters project where our volunteers seem to be at least as efficient as the computer algorithms at finding planets orbiting at habitable zone distances from host stars. Now, the hunt is not just targeting any old exoplanet - volunteers are homing in on habitable worlds."
"These are planet candidates that slipped through the net, being missed by professional astronomers and rescued by volunteers in front of their web browsers. It's remarkable to think that absolutely anyone can discover a planet," adds Oxford University's Dr. Chris Lintott. "There's an obsession with finding Earth-like planets but what we are discovering, with planets such as PH2 b, is far stranger."
The study in question was originally published in the Astrophysical Journal.