A Pair of High Schoolers Just Discovered Four Exoplanets

Don't worry, we'll explain what an exoplanet is

An artist's rendering of the exoplanets.

What was your time in high school like? Did you, for instance, discover any stars or planets? If you answered in the negative, then Jasmine Wright and Kartik Pinglé — 18 and 16, respectively — might have you beat. The two high schoolers discovered four planets orbiting a star roughly 200 lightyears from Earth.

A new article at Smithsonian Magazine ventures into how Wright and Pinglé accomplished this — and the program that paired them with their mentor, Tansu Daylan. The three of them are among the co-authors of a newly published paper, TESS Discovery of a Super-Earth and Three Sub-Neptunes Hosted by the Bright, Sun-like Star HD 108236.

The discovery of these exoplanets — a term used for planets outside of our own solar system — came via Wright and Pinglé reviewing data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which takes readings from outer space searching for distant planets and solar systems. Wright and Pinglé spent the 2019-20 academic year as part of the Student Research Mentoring Program, which pairs students with an interest in astronomy with researchers at Harvard and MIT.

It was through the SRMP that Wright and Pinglé began working with Daylan. They began reviewing the data, and eventually zeroed in on one particular star, TOI-1233. The team spent months confirming the presence of four planets; another group discovered evidence of a fifth.

NASA’s page on the planets provides even more information, including the news that the “super-Earth” exoplanet is unlikely to support life. Regardless, its discovery is an impressive achievement — made even more so by the background of two of the people involved.

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