NASA Astronomers Discover Planet Twice The Size Of Earth

If you think scientists aren't the most imaginative bunch when it comes to naming things, then think again because boffins over in the States think they may have discovered a 'super Earth'. Inspired.

But there's a reason it's so super duper: it's about twice the size of regular Earth and astronomers say as it's located in our 'habitable zone', might even contain life. Also, the other option for a name is K2-288Bb, which isn't the catchiest.

The extraordinarily large planet is 226 light-years away, in a constellation called Taurus, and experts say it's most likely either a rocky or gas-rich planet, similar to Neptune.

This new and improved Earth is situated in the stellar called K2-288, made up of a pair of dim stars, about 5.1 billion miles apart, which is approximately six times the distance between Saturn and the Sun - if that means anything to you.

According to NASA, the brighter of the two stars is about half the size of the Sun, with the second equating to just a third of the Sun. Again, not that that will really mean anything at all for most of us.

NASA believe they may have found a planet that could contain life. Credit: NASA
NASA believe they may have found a planet that could contain life. Credit: NASA

The new planet discovered by astronomers orbits this smaller star, completing one cycle every 313.3 days.

But it wasn't a team of experienced scientists that made this pretty incredible discovery, it was two students, graduate Adina Feinstein, from the University of Chicago, and Makennah Bristow, an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina Asheville.

The pair were working as interns with Joshua Schlieder, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, at the time.

The inquisitive students made the find by sifting through data collected by the Kepler Telescope, looking for evidence of transits, which is the regular dimming of a star when a planet moves across its face.

During their research of data from the fourth batch of observations from Kepler's K2 mission, the three of them noticed that there were two likely planetary transits.

However, they needed to see a third transit before they could say they had discovered a planet for definite, but they didn't have one. Eventually they realised that they hadn't been looking at all of the information.

And in May 2017, after looking at the new information that was posted on Exoplanet Explorers - which allows the public to look at Kepler's K2 observations to try and find new transiting planets - they finally spotted that third missing transit.

Feinstein and her colleagues couldn't believe they had missed it and the paper has now been accepted for publication by The Astronomical Journal.

Feinstein said: "That's how we missed it - and it took the keen eyes of citizen scientists to make this extremely valuable find and point us to it.

"It's a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon."

When can we go?

Featured Image Credit: PA/NASA

Dominic Smithers

After graduating from Leeds University with a degree in French and History, Dom went onto gain an NCTJ journalism qualification. Since then he has worked as a reporter at the Manchester Evening News and the Macclesfield Express, covering breaking news, court, sports, and politics.

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