High School Students Discover Exoplanets

March 5, 2021

Outer space—it’s a fascinating topic, isn’t it? There’s so much we’ve learned about it, and yet there’s still so much to be discovered! Thanks to space organizations like NASA, rovers like Perseverance, and the many, many astrophysicists leading the way, we are constantly learning new things about this vast place. One recent discovery? Four new exoplanets (or planets outside our solar system). Exciting? Absolutely! What’s even more exciting about this discovery? It’s a multi-planetary system similar to that of our solar system where the planets orbit around a sun-like star, and it’s just two hundred light-years away. The similarities between these two systems will help astrophysicists discover more about the history and makeup of our solar system, as well as the origins of systems beyond our solar system. Cool, right?

High schoolers Kartik Pinglé (left) and Jasmine Wright. Credit: Vibha Pinglé and Judit Redl

What’s perhaps just as cool? These exoplanets were discovered by sixteen-year-old Kartik Pinglé and eighteen-year-old Jasmine Wright! Pinglé and Wright are part of a program called Science Research Mentoring Program, where high-school students are paired up with scientists at Harvard and MIT to complete a one-year research project. Pinglé and Wright joined astrophysicist and postdoctoral research fellow at MIT, Tansu Dylan, to kick off their project by looking through data gathered from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

Artist rendering of the five-planet system around TOI-1233, four of which were discovered by Kartik Pinglé and Jasmine Wright and research mentor Tansu Daylan. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It took about two months of looking through the data before they discovered four exoplanets, now named HD 108236 B, C, D, and E. Turns out these exoplanets are a pretty big deal. Kids, what can’t they do?