Over the last three nights, ABC TV's Stargazing Live has educated viewers about the universe. But a crowdsourcing effort to catalogue unmapped parts of the skies promoted by the program has turned up a brand new solar system containing four planets, 600 light years from Earth.
The data, captured by the Kepler space telescope and distributed through the Zooniverse project, was analysed by more than 10,000 viewers of Stargazing Live. The crowdsourcing effort — used to find patterns in celestial phenomenona that are then confirmed by multiple viewers — turned up what the show's host Professor Brian Cox says is the most important discovery in its seven years of broadcast.
600 light years from Earth in what we see as the Aquarius constellation, Stargazing Live viewers found a previously undiscovered solar system around a yellow star, with four planets closely grouped around it. The planets are all between two and three times the size of Earth.
The discovery could have significant scientific value, too. Oxford University professor of astrophysics Chris Lintott believes it might hold more hints as to our own planet's creation. "The discovery of such an unusual system, with four planets crammed together, will help us test our ideas about how planets are made – a question which has profound implications for understanding the history of our own Earth."