Cesar Rubio has a seven-year-old son Miguel who is fascinated by space and always keeps asking his father questions about stars and planets. Rubio can now proudly tell his son about the planets that he discovered. Rubio is one of the scientists — though not by profession — who discovered two planets outside our solar system. He is a machinist who makes parts for power generation and mining equipment.
He is not the only one of what NASA calls ‘Citizen Scientists’ — people who volunteer to help scientists make new discoveries. Under NASA’s citizen science program, hosted by a platform named Zooniverse, any space enthusiast can register and help scientists study data collected from various satellites and space telescopes. The newly-discovered exoplanets are about 352 light-years away from our solar system and orbit a star HD 152843, 1.5 times bigger and slightly brighter than the sun. One of the planets, b, is 3.4 times bigger than Earth, and the other planet, c, is 5.8 times bigger than our blue planet.
The planets’ gaseous atmosphere and hot temperature make them inhabitable.
The citizen scientists were part of a program Planet Hunters TESS under which they analyzed data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April 2018. The planet hunters detected transit events, which are a planet or huge object blocking light coming from its star, using light curves — graphs of star brightness — built from TESS data.
The latest study that was published in the journal Earth and Planetary Astrophysics has the first co-author credit to Rubio. However, Alexander Hubert and Elisabeth Baeten, who are also co-authors in the study, have been doing it for a while now. Hubert is a college student in Germany studying mathematics and Latin, who wants to become a secondary school teacher. He has flagged more than 10,000 fluctuations in data that would be verified by scientists to look for potential planets. Baeten, who is from Belgium and works in reinsurance administration, has been a co-author of more than a dozen scientific studies that have been published.