Merrin Peterson is currently studying for her master’s degree in physics at the University of Montreal. When she started last year, little did she know that she would discover a brand new exoplanet while still being in school.
She believes that everything is very thrilling as her supervisor calls the finding her planet. Merrin wrote a paper and did most of her work in connection with the newly found exoplanet. In fact, as she says, it was a team effort that led to this discovery. NASA stated that for almost every star in the sky there are planets that are orbiting it.
These planets that are orbiting stars besides our own are what we call exoplanets. They come in various sizes and shapes and they are really different among them. They could be boiling hot or frozen solid, depending on their proximity to their star. There are some that are so close that they complete an orbit – which is essentially a year on that planet – in just a couple of days.
Merrin’s planet got the name Wolf 503b and although it is twice the size of our planet, it can complete an orbit in just 6 days. Located in the Virgo constellation, Wolf 503b is currently at 145 light-years away from Earth.
You may be wondering just how a student managed to find an exoplanet. Well, by working with Assistant Professor Bjorn Benneke, Merrin Peterson acquired data from the Kepler telescope and she analyzed it via a computer program meant for identifying potential exoplanets.
Peterson believes that searching for exoplanets can be compared to looking for something that isn’t there. You can say that you found one as soon as something blocks star light. From here you start calculating the planet’s radius and mass and how long it takes to complete an orbit.