This week, NASA confirmed the discovery of the 15th new planet reported by stargazers to an Oxford University website.
Planethunters.org was set up by the University’s Physics Department nearly two years ago to test NASA’s Kepler Project, which is devoted to the search for new planets in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” near a star – the region where the temperature is ‘just right’ for liquid water to exist.
The 15 planets are among 90 reported overall by stargazers, with the further unconfirmed bodies in line for further observation to confirm their status, likely by the world’s largest telescopes in Hawaii.
The Kepler project uses telescopes to detect changes in the brightness of stars when planets move in front of them. Visitors to planethunters.org examine photos taken by the telescopes looking for dimming effects indicative of new planets which may have been missed by NASA’s relatively small team of experts.
One of the University physicists behind the website, Dr Arfon Smith, said: “People have turned out to be very good at identifying potential planets and the 90 we’ve had reported so far could all be worthy of being on the Kepler list.”