Four New Exoplanets, Including A Super-Earth, Discovered by High School Students

Four exoplanets have been discovered around the star TOI-1233 by two high school students, making them among the youngest people to ever discover a celestial body.

Sixteen-year-old Kartik Pinglé and 18-year-old Jasmine Wright were participating in the Student Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, mentored by Dr Tansu Daylan, a postdoc at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. They are now co-authors on a paper reporting the discovery published in The Astronomical Journal 

The team found this to be the case for TOI-1233.To their surprise, they saw evidence of not one but many planets. Three of these objects are expected to be gaseous planets slightly smaller than Neptune, classified as sub-Neptunes. There is also something that looks like a large rocky planet that is thought to be a super-Earth.

“I was very excited and very shocked,” Wright said of the discovery. “We knew this was the goal of Daylan’s research, but to actually find a multi-planetary system, and be part of the discovering team, was really cool.” 

The discovery of multiplanetary systems like this is very important. Although TOI-1233 is radically different from our own corner of the galaxy, it can provide important information about how the solar system formed.

“Our species has long been contemplating planets beyond our solar system and with multi-planetary systems, you’re kind of hitting the jackpot,” Daylan explained. “The planets originated from the same disk of matter around the same star, but they ended up being different planets with different atmospheres and different climates due to their different orbits. So, we would like to understand the fundamental processes of planet formation and evolution using this planetary system.” 

Artist rendering. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The mentoring program, directed by astrochemist Dr. Clara Sousa-Silva, aims to connect local high school students who are interested in research with real scientists from Harvard and MIT. It admits a dozen students a year, giving priority to those of the under-represented minorities in science who conduct our paid research, working with mentors on a one-year project.

“They are salaried scientists,” Sousa-Silva explained. “We want to encourage them that pursuing an academic career is enjoyable and rewarding—no matter what they end up pursuing in life.” 

In the last few years, several teenagers have been involved in exoplanetary research, discovering hot Jupiters, as well as planets orbiting binary stars.


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