Out of this world discovery by Western University grad student

Chris Fox has long had a love affair with the stars. Now, he's celebrating the discovery of a new exoplanet.

Chris Fox has discovered an exoplanet the size of Saturn

(Western University)

Chris Fox has had a love affair with the stars since he was a child. Now, the Ph D student in the department of physics and astronomy at Western University is celebrating the discovery of a new exoplanet, a planet that is outside of our solar system. 

"I was very excited," said Fox. "I got what I was looking for. It was a really good feeling."

Chris Fox, Ph D student at Western University

The new planet is called Kepler 159d. Fox found it by investigating gravitational effects on Kepler 159b and Kepler 159c, two exoplanets previously discovered by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. 

A red letter day

"Discovering new planets is not an everyday affair," said Paul Wiegert, Graduate Program Director at Western's Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration. "We were pretty ecstatic finding a new planet. A red letter day, for sure."

Wiegert said this discovery is not only exciting, it will help scientists understand our solar system.

"The beauty of exoplanets and astronomical research in general is that it tells us about our place in the universe," said Wiegert. "As we discover new exoplanets, we start to discover that these planets are actually quite different than what we have in our solar system."

The Goldilocks zone

Kepler 159d is about the same size as Saturn and orbits its star in 88 days, according to Fox. But, that's not all. 

"One of the more exciting things is that it's in what's called the habitable zone. It's not too cold and it's not too hot. It's called the Goldilocks zone," said Fox. 

That means there's the potential to have liquid water. But, does that mean there could be life on Kepler 159d?

"It would be a good first step," said Fox. "We have no indication one way or the other if there's life on it. And, since the planet is so big, it's probably a gas giant so if it did have life, it would probably be very, very different than what we think of as life here on earth."

Answering those types of "really, really big questions" is all part of the process said Wiegert. 

"But, we have a long way to go."