Two high school students from the United States have become the youngest people to discover four new exoplanets situated 200-light-years away from Earth. Their peer-reviewed research paper on this spectacular discovery was published in The Astronomical Journal on January 25, 2021.
According to The Harvard Gazette, 16-year-old junior Kartik Pinglé and 18-year-old senior Jasmine Wright were part of the Student Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) and that is when they made the discovery. Through this programme local high school students who are interested in research with real-world scientists at the Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Once they are selected, the students then work with their mentors on a year-long research project.
The two genius teenagers were mentored by Tansu Daylan, a postdoc at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Under the project they studied and analyzed data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). The space-based satellite orbits around Earth and surveys nearby bright stars with the goal of discovering new planets. The team was closely observing TESS Object of Interest (TOI) 1233 which is a bright Sun-like star close to the Solar System. The team then focused on spotting any presence of planets that were rotating around the star and to do that they narrowed in on TOI-1233’s light. It was a surprise when they found four exoplanets revolving around TOI 1233. Three of those planets are identified as the sub-Neptunes, gaseous planets that are smaller than, but like our solar system’s Neptune. The three planets take between six and 19.5 days to orbit around the TOI-1233. Meanwhile, the fourth planet has been described as a super-Earth for its large size and rocky topography. The super-earth orbits around its sun in under four days.
Speaking to The Harvard Gazette, Kartik said that his team was looking to see changes in light over time because if a planet transits the star, or passes in front of it, it will cover up the star and decrease its brightness.
Meanwhile, describing her reaction Jasmin said that she was extremely excited and very shocked as the discovery was made. She further said that she knew this was the goal of Daylan’s research, but to find a multiplanetary system, and be part of the discovering team, “was really cool”.
Director of the SRMP programme, Clara Sousa-Silva who is also an astrochemist told the Harvard Gazette that High School students rarely make such significant discoveries, and it is highly unusual for high-schoolers to be co-authors on journal papers.