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Latest discoveries 2013


PH2_moonWe are pleased to announce the discovery and confirmation of our second confirmed planet : PH2 b-a Jupiter-size planet in the habitable zone of a star like the Sun-by the Planet Hunter project. The paper has already been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal and has been made public via arxiv.org.

The estimated surface temperature of 46 degrees Celsius is right for there to be liquid water, but it is extremely unlikely that life exists on PH2 b because it is a gas planet like our Jupiter, and thus there is no solid surface or liquid environment for life to thrive. In order to study this interesting system, we used the HIRES seo services spectrograph and NIRC2 adaptive optics system on the Keck telescopes in Hawaii to obtain both high resolution spectrum and high spatial-resolution images. The observations help us to rule out possible scenarios for false positive detections and give us a measured confidence level of more than 99.9% that PH2 b is a bona-fide planet rather than just an illusion.

In the meantime, we also announce the discoveries of 31 long-period planet candidates with periods more than 100 days, including 15 candidates located in the habitable zones of their host stars. The candidate list is a joint effort between the volunteer Planet Hunters, and the science team. Each individual planet candidate was identified and then discussed on Talk by Planet Hunters. Several dedicated Planet Hunters collected information on candidates and carried out light curve modeling and initial vetting for false positives. The science team then decided the priority of each target on the candidate list and conducted follow-up observations.

Although most of these planets are large, like Neptune or Jupiter in our own Solar System, these discoveries increase the sample size of long-period planet candidates by more than 30% and almost double the number of known gas giant planet candidates in the habitable zone. In the future, we may find moons around these planet candidates (just like Pandora around Polyphemus in the movie Avatar) that allows life to survive and evolve under a habitable temperature.

In addition to the 31 long-period planet candidates, we announce a watch list for 9 further planet candidates which have only 2 transits observed. They do not currently meet the three-transit criteria of being a planet candidate set by the Kepler team. However, the Planet Hunters were able to pull them out and a future third transit would greatly increase the probability of them being real, allowing us to promote them into the full candidate list.

Lots of our candidates appear on a recent list published by the Kepler team (Tenenbaum et al. 2012) of possible transit signals, but it’s good to see they have now passed the additional tests to be planet candidates (not all of the Tenenbaum objects are real planet candidates; there are plenty of false positives). 6 candidates on our list were somehow missing in that list, all of which have periods of more than 240 day. This is an indication that we, the Planet Hunters, are effective in detecting long-period planet candidates. Heading into the future, we have reason to believe that more long-period planets and potentially habitable planets can be discovered by us. Go Planet Hunters, go hunting planets!

Ji Wang

Ji is a post-doctoral associate in the department of Astronomy at the Yale University, and the lead author on the latest Planet Hunters paper. Before assuming his current position, he attended college at the University of Science and Technology of China and obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Florida. The roll of honour for planet hunters who contributed to these discoveries is here.



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