Danbury High School Student Discovers Potentially Habitable Planet
Most High School 17-year-old kids spend their spare time hanging out, working, playing sports, or playing Fortnite, but not one Danbury High School student who has gone where no student has gone before.
His name is Alton Spencer, and he's a senior at Danbury High School whose interest in stars and planets has outgrown our universe. Now, according to an article written by Brendan Dyer via the Danbury Public Schools Facebook page, the 17-year-old is being recognized as one of the researchers who recently discovered an exoplanet that is potentially habitable and roughly the size of Earth.
So just how does a high school senior make this kind of an Earth-shattering discovery? According to the story, Alton used information from NASA's Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which is used by astronomers to find planets in that goldilocks zone, which are planets that are similar to the size of earth and are around the same distance away from their star as we are to the sun. Based on a few simple calculations, Alton estimates that this exoplanet, which is some 100 light years away, is orbiting a parent star with a radius and mass 40 percent of the sun and two percent as bright. He also estimates that TOI-700d, the name for the newly discovered planet, is about 18 percent bigger than Earth, has an orbit lasting only 37.4 days and receives 93 percent as much sunlight.
Based on these calculations, and the how the planet moves around its sun -- referred to as the planet's transit -- he's deducted that his new discovery to be 22 percent larger than Earth and gets 86 percent as much sunlight. So he was very close to his original estimates. He's also concluded that, based on these numbers, the exoplanet is very likely to be rocky, like Earth, and cool enough for liquid water.
At this time, Alton is working on his research independently, but his latest discovery drew the attention of professional scientists. In July, Alton was invited by Andrew Vanderburg to work with a team of astronomers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on transit proposals for NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to confirm the signal of TOI-700d was real.
So just what does Alton do when he's not scanning the universe for exoplanets? He's just your normal, average high school student whose favorite class is AP Environmental Science. He is also a member of the school’s robotics club, and he hopes to attend MIT after his graduation from DHS in June. I'm sure MIT would just love to have him.