26 June 2015 News

From WASP-142b to supernovae: Tom Wagg’s planet and other discoveries by teenagers

Earlier this month, The Independent reported that a fifteen-year-old intern had discovered a whole new planet. As amazing as it seems, this is not the first such occurrence.

Two years ago, Tom Wagg was on work experience at Keele University, going through star data collected by South African cameras, when a small dip in the light of a star caught his eye.

This month, Wagg’s discovery was finally confirmed after further research. The teenager had indeed found a new planet. Catalogued as WASP-142b, the planet is located roughly 1,000 light years away from Earth and is among nearly 150 planets that have been discovered by the WASP (Wide Angle Search for Planets) project so far.

Young Tom Wagg joins a small, but distinguished group of teenage discoverers. In recent years, Hannah Mabry and Jessica Pal, two high school students in Kentucky, each found a pulsar after studying radio telescope data.

Back in 2008, Caroline Moore, an amateur astronomer living in New York State, was just 14 when she discovered an entire supernova in the UGC 12682 galaxy (it can be found in the Pegasus constellation).

And in 2010, Nova Scotia-based Kathryn Aurora Gray became the youngest person to discover a supernova at just 10 years old.

These recent discoveries testify to the fact that taking an interest in astronomy early can have tremendous benefits – both for budding scientists and for the field as a whole.

We have amassed, and continue to amass, tremendous amounts of data on objects far beyond Earth. Sometimes, all it takes is an enthusiastic kid with a little more energy and time on their hands than the average adult to help draw an important conclusion from said data.

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