Between volleyball practice, piano lessons and AP classes, two high school students managed to discover four exoplanets in the distant cosmos.
Kartik Pinglé, 16, and Jasmine Wright, 18, made their discovery as participants in the Student Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Smithsonian Magazine reports. The duo’s co-authored, peer-reviewed paper on their research was published in The Astronomical Journal on Jan. 25.
SciTechDaily reports that Pinglé and Wright discovered the planets by analyzing data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) under the guidance of Tansu Daylan, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. According to the site, TESS, a satellite traveling within Earth’s gravitational pull, was specially designed to survey neighboring stars to discover new planets.
At the start of their yearlong stint with SRMP, Pinglé, Wright and Daylan elected to research TESS Object of Interest (TOI) 1233, a bright sun-like star that’s situated approximately 200 lightyears from Earth, Slash Gear reports. The team monitored TOI-1233’s light emissions to identify if there were planets orbiting around the star.
“We were looking to see changes in light over time,” Pinglé stated (via SciTechDaily). “The idea being that if the planet transits the star, or passes in front of it, it would (periodically) cover up the star and decrease its brightness.”
Through this process the team discovered not only one but four planets orbiting TOI-1233. The planet positioned the closest to TOI-1233 was classified as a “super-Earth” because of its rocky composition, and the other three were categorized as “sub-Neptunes” as they are gaseous and comparable in size to our Neptune, Smithsonian Magazine reports.
“I really like working with high school students because they have minimal bias.” Daylan told Smithsonian Magazine. They have not been taught to think in a particular way. ... (They) are so good at finding things that may skip your eyes, basically. It’s fun. And I really like the exchange of ideas.”
In addition to landing bylines in The Astronomical Journal, Wright and Pinglé were both paid for their weekly efforts. According to Clara Sousa-Silva, the director of the SRMP, participants in the program receive hourly wages for their work.
“They are salaried scientists,” Sousa-Silva said (via SciTechDaily). “We want to encourage (students) that pursuing an academic career is enjoyable and rewarding — no matter what they end up pursuing in life.”