U of C grad student helps discover a planet
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Adina Feinstein is on her way, just not to the planet she helped discover. It’s 226 light years away.
The 22-year-old University of Chicago grad student made a splash this week at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle after publishing her findings and crediting the citizen scientists who paved the way.
The citizen scientists — in this case, a few regular people with day jobs who enjoy sorting through data made public by NASA — first spotted the planet, which is noteworthy because it is only about two times the size of Earth.
“Among planets that orbit close to their stars, there’s a curious dearth of worlds between about 1.5 and two times Earth’s size,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in announcing the findings.
Feinstein, who lives in Hyde Park and is studying astronomy, was interning for NASA last year when she persuaded colleagues — who had a bit of spare telescope time — to aim several of the instruments at the planet to see if they could confirm its existence.
It’s classified as an exoplanet, or one that’s beyond our solar system.
While the planet is within the “habitable zone” in relation to its closest star — meaning its orbit could allow liquid water to exist on the planet’s surface — Feinstein doesn’t suspect it contains life.
More study will be needed to learn about the composition of the planet. Its significance in future research may lie as a case study of planets that evolve from rocky planets with a thin atmosphere to gaseous planets with a thick atmosphere.
Nothing like the planet, named K2-288Bb, exists in our solar system, Feinstein said.
“I just think astronomy is so beautiful, so open and endless and so many questions you can ask. There’s so much we don’t know about our universe,” she said.
About half of the 26 people credited for their work in the just-published paper are women. Feinstein was the lead author.
“It’s an unusually large number of women,” said Feinstein.