Overlooked Exoplanet Found by Citizen Scientists

A massive planet or brown dwarf, 1600 AU from its star, was found by citizen scientists in the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project.

Beth Johnson
3 min readDec 14, 2021
IMAGE: At left, the NASA WISE image of the BD+60 1417AB system. At right bottom is the host star and companion, and at top right is a zoom-in on the new low-mass world. The image is a color-composite from multiple WISE bands. CREDIT: Backyard Worlds collaborator Léopold Gramaize

During a post-show Q&A the other day, we discussed how the only exoplanet stories we’re getting these days are about the wildest and weirdest planet discoveries. There’s a reason for that. We’ve found nearly 5,000 exoplanets, and the discoveries had gotten to the point where the press releases announcing them became so common that no one was really paying attention to them anymore. Once unusual and exciting, exoplanets are now pretty commonplace. Which has brought us to where the announcements are now about planets with strange orbits or unusual sizes, such as the ones that orbit in less than a day or are Mars-sized.

Today’s press release is no different in that regard. A new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal details the discovery of a massive exoplanet that could be a brown dwarf, orbiting at a huge distance from its star: over 1,600 astronomical units away. Remember, an astronomical unit is the average distance from the Earth to the Sun, so this giant of a planet is 1,600 times farther away. We haven’t found a lot of planets at that type of distance from their host stars.

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Beth Johnson

Planetary scientist, podcast host. Communication specialist for SETI Institute and Planetary Science Institute. Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/planetarypan