How 2 teenagers discovered 4 scientifically valuable exoplanets

Two teens discovered four new exoplanets and wrote a peer-reviewed paper — all before from graduating high school.

(CNN)Kartik Pinglé and Jasmine Wright haven't graduated from high school yet. But they've already discovered four new exoplanets and co-authored a peer-reviewed paper.

Their paper about the newly discovered planets, which are about 200 light-years away from Earth, was published in The Astronomical Journal in January.
"I remember when I came home, and I told (my parents), 'Oh, I think we discovered a multi-planetary system,' they didn't really understand that it was it was kind of a big thing," said Wright, an 18-year-old senior at Bedford High School in Bedford, Massachusetts.
    "Once the paper was published and there were a few articles out about it, I had a lot of classmates and friends who were congratulating me, which I was a little bit surprised by — I expected it from my friends, but not random people in my class," said Pinglé, a 16-year-old who attends Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Boston.
      Students can get hands-on research experience through a program that connects local high schoolers with real-world scientists at Harvard and MIT.

      What sets this discovery apart

      Their discovery is significant because the system has a bright star, more than three exoplanets and can be studied in comparison to our own solar system, said Tansu Daylan, their mentor and a postdoctoral researcher at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.
      "This is the brightest Sun-like star hosting more than three planets that cross our line-of-sight," Dalyan said.
        The light emitted by bright stars like this one allows for the clear detection of a transit — when a planet passes in front of its star — which matters for researchers who study exoplanets.
        Systems hosting more than one planet are also intriguing to scientists because they have the same origin and much of the same history, Daylan explained. "The combination of these two is what makes the system fairly unique," he said.
        But Daylan said that while bright stars and multiple planets can be found in other systems, many other planetary systems have what are called "low-mass stars." While these are more accessible for observation-based studies, they aren't like our star, the sun.
        That's where this discovery is different.
        "When it comes to studying by comparison — that is, studying the atmospheres of planets beyond the solar system around sun-like stars — this is probably one of the best targets that we will ever get," he said.
        NASA highlighted the discovery on their website, which dives a bit more into the specific characteristics of one of the planets; describing it as a "scorchingly hot 'super-Earth,' more than 1 1/2 times as big around as our home planet ... With a likely surface temperature of more than 1,500 Fahrenheit."

        The program that made it possible

        Their research was made possible by a program that connects local high schoolers with scientists at Harvard and MIT through the Student Research Mentoring Program at the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian. Students spend a month together training before they are partnered with a mentor for a year-long research project.
        Pinglé said their project began with searching for something unique within the data from NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, a space-based satellite that orbits around Earth and surveys nearby bright stars.
        They spent about two months searching the data and found a multi-planetary system, with planets now named HD 108236 B, C, D and E.
        Wright and Pinglé never imagined making this type of discovery. "I remember telling my mom about a month into the project that I didn't think we were going to find anything," Pinglé said.
        Kartik Pinglé, 16, is one of the two students to make the discovery. He says his love for math has made this project a good fit for him.