Overlooked by the experts: amateur researcher finds unusual exoplanets

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A participant in the amateur research project “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” has found a previously unknown companion of a star that had previously been overlooked several times. The object that accompanies the star BD + 60 1417 is either a large exoplanet or a so-called brown dwarf, i.e. an object between the star and the planet. But there are indications that speak for an exoplanet. BD + 60 1417b therefore comes to 10 to 20 masses of Jupiter and is 1,600 astronomical units away from its star, i.e. 1,600 times as far as the earth is from the sun. Because so far the search for planets had only been much closer to the star, the professional astronomers had overlooked it in several analyzes.

“Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” is based on observations made by NASA’s Wise space telescope. On a Website put online in 2017 Interested parties can watch thumb-cinema-like film sequences and search for moving objects on them. It is mainly about the hypothetical ninth planet. Because of the many image artifacts, search algorithms are overwhelmed and people can play to their strengths. Jörg Schümann, who is now referred to as the discoverer by Jackie Faherty’s research team from the American Museum of Natural History, did the same. It was only he who noticed the small object that appeared to be moving in the images with the star. Because it’s so far from that, it was previously overlooked. After the hint, the find could be confirmed, as it says in the Astrophysical Journal.

The find once again illustrates the value of amateur research projects like Backyard Worlds. Many experts would have been happy to discover this celestial body, but they checked it incorrectly, says Fahrtey. It also gives hope that many more such unusual objects are waiting to be discovered. Due to the mass of the object, it is possible that it is a giant gas planet or a brown dwarf, i.e. too massive for a planet, but not massive enough to ignite nuclear fusion. Many dozen of them have already been found in the context of “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9”. And the project is not even half finished.

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