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Researchers Have Discovered 5 Rocky Planets Around A Sun-Like Star

For the first time in history, a crowdsourced team of amateur citizen scientists has discovered a multi-planetary system. Located 620 light years away, the system contains five exoplanets, and possibly a sixth, the majority of which are super-Earths. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how it was discovered, let’s dive in and take a look at the new star system.

It’s called K2-138, where “K2″ signifies that it was discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope during its K2 mission—an exoplanet-hunting mission that’s been ongoing for the past three years. The star itself is a main sequence K-star, or orange dwarf, a type of star that feature masses between 0.45 and 0.8 times that of the Sun.

All of its five confirmed planets are packed into a tight orbit in close proximity to the star, featuring orbital periods between 2.35 days to 12.76 days. The most distant planet, K2-138f, is one-tenth the distance that Earth is to the Sun. The planets, all rocky, range in size from 1.6 to 3.3 times the radius of Earth, qualifying them as super-Earths. Due to their close proximity to the star, these planets are almost certainly uninhabitable.

These planets are also in a really neat orbital configuration called a “resonance” in which each planet takes 50 percent longer to complete a full orbit than the next planet further in.

K2-138 is no TRAPPIST-1—a star system containing seven Earth-sized planets, including three located within the habitable zone—but it’s a cool discovery nonetheless. It shows us yet another way that star systems can be configured. But the story of how K2-138 was discovered is also pretty neat.