High School Kids Discover Four Exoplanets, Including A Super-Earth

High School Kids Discover Four Exoplanets, Including A Super-Earth

The teens have made history as the youngest astronomers to not only make the discovery but also co-author and publish a research paper with their mentor.

Two teenagers have managed to discover a new solar system located about 200 light-years away from the Earth. It comprises of four exoplanets. The high schoolers from Massachusetts, 16-year-old Kartik Pinglé and 18-year-old Jasmine Wright, may just be the youngest astronomers to do so. They managed the amazing feat under the guidance of astrophysicist Tansu Daylan of MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. This was possible thanks to the Student Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) at the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian. The youngsters have made history and will now be an inspiration for kids in the future who wish to start a career in the sciences.


Pinglé and Wright have discovered four exoplanets and together with their mentor have co-authored and published a paper about the same in The Astronomical Journal. The innermost planet is a possibly rocky super-Earth and the outer planets are sub-Neptunes, with potential gaseous envelopes, the paper states. These planets are orbiting a nearby, bright, Sun-like star called, HD 108236. The planets were discovered with the help of data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS.) "The discovered planets span a broad range of planetary radii and equilibrium temperatures and share a common history of insolation from a Sun-like star," the study stated, "making HD 108236 an exciting, opportune cosmic laboratory for testing models of planet formation and evolution."


In a press release from the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian, Wright said, "I was very excited and very shocked. 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." What Wright and Pinglé have achieved is very rare. It's not that often that high schoolers publish research papers or discover planets like this. "Although that is one of the goals of the SRMP, it is highly unusual for high-schoolers to be co-authors on journal papers,” Clara Sousa-Silva, an astrochemist, as well as Director of the SRMP, stated.

High schoolers Kartik Pinglé (left) and Jasmine Wright have discovered new planets thanks to a research mentorship program at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Source: Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian/Vibha Pinglé and Judit Redl

"It's a steep learning curve," Sousa-Silva said and added that it's worth it anyway. "By the end of the program, the students can say they’ve done active, state-of-the-art research in astrophysics." This would not have been possible without Daylan's mentorship. Daylan is a postdoc at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, who helped the students study and analyze data from TESS. TESS is a space-based satellite by NASA with the purpose of finding planets outside of our solar system, including those that could support life.


"Our species has long been contemplating planets beyond our solar system and with multi-planetary systems, you're kind of hitting the jackpot," Dylan said in the statement. "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." He was also delighted to co-author the paper with the high schoolers and called it a "win-win."


He continued, "As a researcher, I really enjoy interacting with young brains that are open to experimentation and learning and have a minimal bias. I also think it is very beneficial to high school students since they get exposure to cutting-edge research and this prepares them quickly for a research career." Pinglé is a junior in high school and is considering studying applied mathematics or astrophysics after graduation. Wright has just been accepted into a five-year Master of Astrophysics program at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. We may have just come across two brilliant astrophysicists of the future.


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