These teens just had their star turn.
Two Massachusetts high schoolers are getting praised for making a major astronomical discovery — finding four new planets outside our Solar System.
Kartik Pinglé, 16, and Jasmine Wright, 18, helped confirm the existence of the exoplanets and recently published a scientific paper on their findings.
“I was very excited and very shocked,” Wright said of the discovery.
To conduct the research, the bright duo was paired with a real-world scientist as part of the Student Research Mentoring Program at the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian.
The students then worked with their mentor, Tansu Daylan, a postdoc at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, on a year-long project.
They began by analyzing heaps of data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a space-based satellite that orbits the Earth and surveys nearby bright stars in the hopes of finding new planets.
The team focused on a bright Sun-like star spotted by TESS — dubbed TOI-1233 — to see if planets were rotating around it.
To their surprise, the group discovered four planets orbiting around the star, which is some 200 light-years away from Earth.
“We knew this was the goal of Daylan’s research, but to actually find a multiplanetary system, and be part of the discovering team, was really cool,” Wright said.
The teens may be the youngest astronomers to make such a find, according to astrochemist Clara Sousa-Silva, who directs the mentoring program.
Thanks to a partnership with the City of Cambridge, the students were paid four hours per week to complete the research.
“They are salaried scientists,” Sousa-Silva said.
“We want to encourage them that pursuing an academic career is enjoyable and rewarding—no matter what they end up pursuing in life.”
Last week, the peer-reviewed paper the students co-authored with Daylan was published in “The Astronomical Journal” last week.
Daylan said it was a “win-win” to work with the young researchers.
“As a researcher, I really enjoy interacting with young brains that are open to experimentation and learning and have minimal bias,” he said.
“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.”
The students have a bright future ahead of them — Pinglé, a junior, is considering studying applied mathematics or astrophysics after graduation, while Wright was recently accepted to an astrophysics program at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
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