After amateur astronomers identified four potential Planet Nine candidates, another crowdsourcing astronomy event led to the discovery of four previously unknown gigantic planets orbiting a nearby star.

Australian scientists recruited volunteers to take part in ABC's Stargazing Live event and search for exoplanets among the enormous heap of data recorded by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope.

The information comprises observations of nearly 100,000 stars and could be consulted on the Zooniverse website.

In just 48 hours, more than 7,000 participants to the Zooniverse project, called Exoplanet Explorers, managed to confirm more than 90 new planets in an arduous exercise of cataloging points of interest from the downloaded data.

Amid all the new discoveries, four never-before-seen planets stood out as the most interesting find and will soon be the subject of a published paper, announces the website.

"In the seven years I've been making Stargazing Live this is the most significant scientific discovery we've ever made. The results are astonishing," says astrophysicist Chris Lintott, a professor at Oxford University and the lead investigator from Zooniverse.

Brand New Super-Earths

The newly discovered planetary system was found 600 light-years away in the Aquarius constellation, and is made up of four exoplanets bigger than Earth but smaller than Uranus and Neptune - which classifies them as super-Earths.

Their size is more than double compared with our home planet and they are currently found in orbit around a star 90 percent the mass of our sun.

The star database revealed these planets are crammed together and sit much closer to their star than Mercury is to the sun, making them extremely hot worlds.

Lintott points out that their high temperature, together with the fact they are presumably rocky, makes them unfit for human life.

Fresh readings from the Kepler telescope showed the four planets orbit their star once every three to 13 days.

"The closest of them whips around in just three-and-a-half days, so a year is only three-and-a-half days long," explains Lintott.

Because the new solar system is so much different from our own, this important discovery could shed more light into how planets take shape. Only one or two other similar solar systems have ever been encountered, making the new data highly valuable to the scientific community.

Because the four planets are packed in close proximity to one another, scientists are hoping to find more exoplanets in the star's vicinity.

How The New Planets Were Discovered

The Exoplanet Explorers project is the first time citizen scientists have been able to collaborate and classify fresh data from Kepler. The amateur astronomers combed through data on the brightness of distant stars, looking for blinking patterns that point to a planet in transit.

When planets pass in front of stars as they follow their orbit, the star's emitted light grows paler as seen from Earth. These small changes in light can be difficult to spot and, according to Astronomy Magazine, are often best left to humans to discern, as opposed to computers.

Such citizen science projects rely on sheer numbers to find real objects, meaning the more people identify a planet, the more chances are the planet is in fact real. The gathered observations were analyzed by scientific teams in multiple countries afterward.

In no more than two days, the thousands of volunteers taking part in Exoplanet Explorers provided the amount of investigation "equivalent of a single astronomer working for a couple of years straight, no coffee breaks, no nipping to the loo," says Lintott.
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One of the amateur astronomers who found the four super-Earths is Andrew Grey, a 26-year-old Australian mechanic from Darwin, who will soon see his name on the published scientific paper pertaining to this discovery.

"It's definitely my first scientific publication," said Grey, who told ABC he cataloged around 1,000 stars just in the first night. All the volunteers that contributed to the find will be credited in the study, notes Zooniverse.

Other notable results of the project include the detection of a Jupiter-sized planet 700 light-years away that orbits its star every 24 days, as well as an Earth-sized planet (the smallest one discovered) that only needs 2.2 days to complete its orbit. The closest planet found was another super-Earth 390 light-years away that orbits its red dwarf star every seven days.

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