Mentorship program leads two students to discover new exoplanets

The Student Research Mentoring Program at the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian trains local high school students for a month before pairing them with a scientist for a year-long research project. The program is a great opportunity to give students hands-on experience in the field and explore their love of science in a real-world setting. This year, it also allowed two high school students to discover four new exoplanets. 

Kartik Pinglé and Jasmine Wright were participating in the program and spent months searching through data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite mission. One day, the pair of Boston teenagers made a startling discovery: a multi-planetary system, with planets now named HD 108236 B, C, D, and E. The students have co-authored a paper about their discovery, which was published in The Astronomical Journal last month. 

The exoplanets offer the opportunity to study a planetary system similar to our own. The presence of a bright star with more than three exoplanets mirrors our own solar system. Researchers are now curious to see if the creation of these planets resembles the creation of Earth and its neighboring planets. 

This discovery is not only an exciting opportunity for scientists, but it also highlights the benefits of creating engaging cross partnerships between scientists and students. This program demonstrates how hands-on learning opportunities can be the most engaging way to inspire the next generation of researchers and maybe even allow them to discover something revolutionary.

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