A group of student astronomers have achieved something few teens can lay claim to: the discovery of a new exoplanet. According to Keele University in England, 24 students aged 15 to 17 spotted the Neptune-sized planet during a week-long workshop at the school.
One of the workshop’s programs, titled “Project Tatooine” after Luke’s bi-solar home planet in Star Wars, was aimed at identifying exoplanets orbiting around double stars. While analyzing thousands of light curves captured by NASA’s Kepler satellite, 15-year-old Josh of Trentham High School noticed the tell-tale shadow of a potential planet. It orbits a sun-like star in the Virgo constellation that's about 800 light years away and nearly 100 times fainter than what’s visible with the naked eye.
The new planet wasn’t the only noteworthy discovery that was made. As Josh and his team were writing up their report, a student named Rob from Newcastle College found another possible candidate for an exoplanet. Like the first one they spotted, the new find is similar in size to Neptune with an orbit of 18 days compared to the initial planet’s 19.
Thousands of planets have been spotted by the Kepler observatory since its launch in 2009, but those account for just a fraction of what has yet to be discovered in our galaxy alone. Of those confirmed exoplanet sightings, 21 have been deemed earth-like.
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