High school students discover a quartet of exoplanets

A group of high school students have possibly become the youngest astronomers to make a major discovery ever. The students published findings this week as part of a research mentorship program from the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard and the Smithsonian. The students discovered a five-planet system around TOI-1233 that includes a super-Earth planet that have the potential to help solve mysteries about planet formation.

The four innermost planets of the system were discovered by high school students Kartik Pinglé and Jasmine Wright. The students were working with researcher Tansu Daylan. Kartik Pinglé is 18-years-old, and Jasmine Wright is 16 years old. The four exoplanets the teams 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. The students work with their mentors on a year-long research project. Astrochemist Clara Sousa-Silva directs the program. She says that the learning curve on the program is steep, but in the end, the students can say they've done active state-of-the-art research and astrophysics.

The achievement of the high school students is rare as students of that age seldom published research. Both students were co-authors of the research paper. The students, along with their mentor, studied data from TESS, a satellite orbiting the Earth that surveys nearby bright stars to discover exoplanets. TESS looks for dimming 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 study the new planets more in the coming year. Another nice thing about the program the students participate in is that they are paid for four hours per week for the research they complete.