Two highschoolers from Massachusetts have helped discover four new exoplanets, according to new reports. The high school students, 12-year-old Kartik Pingle and 18-year-old Jasmine Wright are the second and third authors on the paper describing the discovery that was published on 25 January in The Astronomical Journal. According to a release by Harvard, the two participated in the research which detailed the discovery of four new exoplanets about 200-light years away from Earth through the Student Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA).
According to the report, the SRMP connects local high schoolers who are interested in research with real-world scientists at Harvard and MIT. The entire thing is directed by astrochemist Clara Sousa-Silva.
Speaking about it Sousa-Silva called it a steep learning curve, adding that by the end of the programme, students can say they’ve done active, state-of-the-art research in astrophysics.
Sousa-Silva added that Pingle and Wright’s achievement is rare as high-schoolers barely get to publish research.
The two, under the guidance from mentor Tansu Daylan, a postdoc at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, studied and analysed data from TESS, focussing on TESS Object of Interest (TOI) 1233, a bright Sun-like star, narrowing it down to TOI-1233’s light to see if any planets were rotating the star.
Pingle explained that they were looking to see changes in light over time, with the idea being that if the planet transits the star, it would cover it up and decrease the sun’s brightness.
The team ended up discovering four planets rotating around TOI-1233.
Wright added that she was excited and shocked, adding that while they knew it was the goal of the research, but fining a multiplanetary system was actually very cool.
According to the release, three of the planets are ‘sub-Neptunes’, or gaseous planets, smaller but similar to Milky Way’s Neptune. They take between six and 19.5 days to orbit around the star. The fourth is a ‘super-Earth’, which is large and rocky, and orbits in just under 4 days.