Citizen scientists discover strange new world that pro astronomers missed

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By Corey S. Powell

With help from a dead spacecraft, citizen scientists just discovered an alien world that professional astronomers had overlooked.

The newfound exoplanet orbits a small red star 226 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Taurus. Roughly twice as big as Earth, K2-288Bb circles its host star in the so-called habitable zone, where liquid water and possibly life could exist.

The discovery, described in a paper to be published in The Astronomical Journal, brings the total number of confirmed exoplanets to 3,869, including more than 40 with conditions that might be capable of sustaining life.

Scientists are excited about K2-288Bb not only because of the possibility that it could support life, but also because it’s unlike anything in our solar system: a solitary, midsize planet circling a star that has a nearby stellar companion.

“It will tell us something about the planetary formation process,” University of Chicago astronomer Adina Feinstein, the paper’s lead author, told NBC News MACH in an email.

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