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New planet as large as Jupiter discovered by ‘civil scientists’

A group of civic scientists and astronomers have found a new planet the size of Jupiter.

The huge world, called TOI-2180 b, is 379 light-years away and takes 261 days to orbit its star - longer than many other gas giants outside our solar system - and a temperature of around 76C. This is warmer than Earth, but abnormally cold for similar exoplanets.

The TOI-2180 b is also thought to be denser than Jupiter, with as many as 105 masses of soil packed inside. This suggests that it is not made of elements like hydrogen and helium.

There may also be rings and moons orbiting it, something that has not yet been found with certainty outside our own solar system.

Citizens using Nasa telescope data to discover other worlds collaborated with professional astronomers in a "global unifying effort." While professional astronomers use algorithms to scan the data, citizen scientists inspect them with their eyes using a program called LcTools.

This resulted in former U.S. Navy Officer Tom Jacobs noticing a plot showing starlight from the star TOI-2180, which is dimmed by less than half a percent over a 24-hour period. Although his may not sound like much, the data suggests that a planet in orbit may be responsible for the attenuation.

By measuring the amount of light that is dimmed as the planet passes, scientists can estimate the size of the planet and, in combination with other measurements, its density. But a transit can only be seen if a star and its planet are in line with telescopes looking for them.

"With this new discovery, we are pushing the boundaries of the kind of planets we can extract from TESS [Nasa’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite] observations, "said Diana Dragomir, assistant professor at the University of New Mexico." TESS was not specifically designed to find such exoplanets in long orbit, but our team still digs up these rare gems with the help of civilian scientists. "

The manual efforts of citizen scientists are in some cases superior to the algorithms' work in discovering new planets.

"It's actually hard to write code that can go through a million light curves and identify single transit incidents reliably," said Paul Dalba of the University of California, Riverside. A single transit event is when the planet passes in front of the star from our point of view, whereas computer algorithms search for planets by identifying multiple transit events from a single star.

"This is an area where people are still beating code," said Dr. Dalba.

A study based on the research was published in Astronomical Journal last Thursday.

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