Arizona

Oct 25, 2012 6:55 PM by NBC News

'Planet Hunter' from Arizona discovers 'Star Wars'-like world

(NBC NEWS) - An Arizona man who works as a doctor by day and volunteers as a planet hunter by night has discovered what may be the first ever four-star planet. And he did it without a telescope.

"I've always been fascinated, even as a child, with astronomy," said Planet Hunter Dr. Robert Gagliano, who lives in Cottonwood, Arizona.

In 2004, Dr. Gagliano got in to web-based astronomy. Eventually he joined a free online citizen science project called Planet Hunters, "to join in the hunt for planets on their website."

After many sleepless nights of planet hunting: "I was extremely fortunate, I looked through 1500 light curves, which are grafts that are generated from the Kepler Space Telescope, and on one of those light curves I detected two transits, which is a little bit of dimming of the light," he said.

From there, he combined his discovery with research from a semi-retired computer programmer. At that point they knew they had three transits.

"We were pretty sure we had found something pretty special," Dr. Gagliano said.

About a dozen astronomers from around the world confirmed it was actually a four-star planet.

"It just boggled my mind; it's the discovery of a lifetime for me personally," he said. "It's half luck, serendipity we say, and the other half was a little fun and work on the website."

It has officially been dubbed PH-1 - the "PH" for Planet Hunters.

"Some people suggest we call it ‘Tatooine' like the fictional home planet of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars," Dr. Gagliano said with a laugh. Now, he's having fun learning more about his remarkable discovery.

"The planet itself is pretty cool," he said. "It is about the size of Neptune, very hot - you wouldn't want to live there, over 500 degrees Fahrenheit and it's made of gas so it doesn't have a solid surface."

He knows it will be hard to top, still, he continues to spend hours at a time planet hunting, hoping to discover more.

"Oh yeah, I'm still looking, I look every day," he said.

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