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High school students discover a quartet of exoplanets

A group of high school students possibly became the youngest astronomer to make a major discovery of all time. The students published the findings this week as part of a research guidance program at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard and the Smithsonian. Students discovered a system of five planets around TOI-1233 that includes a super-Earth planet that has the potential to help solve mysteries about planet formation.

The system’s four innermost planets were discovered by high school students Kartik Pinglé and Jasmine Wright. The students worked with the researcher Tansu Daylan. Kartik Pinglé is 18 years old and Jasmine Wright is 16 years old. The four exoplanets the teams have discovered are about 200 light years from Earth.

The Student Research Mentoring Program at the Center for Astrophysics connects local high school students interested in research with real-world scientists from Harvard and MIT. Students work with their mentors on a one-year research project. Astrochemist Clara Sousa-Silva directs the program. She says the program’s learning curve is steep, but in the end, students can say they did cutting-edge research and astrophysics.

The performance of high school students is rare, as students of this age rarely publish research. Both students were co-authors of the research article. The students, along with their mentor, studied data from TESS, a satellite orbiting the Earth that searches for nearby bright stars to discover exoplanets. TESS seeks out darkening of distant stars caused when planets pass in front of them.

Both students were very excited to be part of a program that discovered distant exoplanets. The team hopes to further study the new planets next year. Another good thing about the program in which students participate is that they receive four hours a week for the surveys they complete.

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