This 22-Year-Old Found Four New Planets, Including a ‘Warm Neptune’


Image: Martin Dee/University of British Columbia
Image: Martin Dee/University of British Columbia
Michelle Kunimoto grew up watching the original Star Trek, which is how the University of British Columbia undergrad, who is 22, first got interested in distant planets.

By Kate Lunau | MOTHERBOARD

As part of her coursework, she started analyzing data from the Kepler space telescope—and she just discovered four previously unknown exoplanets (planets that orbit stars other than our own sun), including an intriguing “warm Neptune” that, one can imagine, might host a moon that could even support life.

“I was given light curves from Kepler that scientists had already gone through,” Kunimoto, who is originally from Abbotsford, BC, told Motherboard. By looking for evidence of transits in the data—winks in a star’s light that suggest a planet has slipped in front of it—she found signals for planet candidates that had previously been overlooked.

“Two of them are roughly the size of Earth. One is Mercury-sized. And the last one is slightly larger than Neptune,” she said. “The Neptune one is most exciting.”

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