DHS Senior discovers habitable planet

The scattered stars across the universe.

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The scattered stars across the universe.

Alicia Jacobs, Staff Writer

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Another day of school, another day of discovering planets. DHS Senior, Alton Spencer, has been interested in astronomy for the past 15 years. Ever since he was young, stars and planets fascinated his mind. When Spencer reached 8th grade, he decided to focus on the study of exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars). This was the start of his exoplanet research. Spencer continued his research and even collaborated with scientists involved with NASA’s TESS mission, Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. The primary objective of the TESS mission is to survey the brightest stars near the Earth for transiting exoplanets over a two-year period.
Spencer came across TOI-700 in May 2019, discovering that it has incomplete parameters which then made the estimate of the sizes and temperatures of it’s three planets. Spencer recalculated the parameters and had discovered that TOI -700 was within the “Habitable Zone”. He sent his results to Saul Rappaport, a scientist from MIT, who talked to the TESS team about TOI-700. This team was led by Andrew Vanderberg and began to plan a follow-up to confirm the planets. In July 2019, Vanderberg invited Spencer to MIT to work on the proposal. The proposal was accepted and two transits were observed. The team confirmed TOI-700d as a planet. The system was then announced on January 6th at the 235th American Astronomical Society Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.
TOI-700d was not the first small and temperate planet candidate Spencer had found or contributed to. But it holds a special place in Spencer’s heart: “it is special for the first planet I have ever worked with professional astronomers to confirm, and it is one of the best potentially habitable exoplanets known.”
The senior is very proud of his work and accomplishments, but with the success comes the pressure, “it has been slightly overwhelming with the amount of press and recognition I’ve gotten.” At the age of 17, Spencer was able to make a significant impact on the world of astrology. As Spencer put it, “the wider scientific community now knows of its existence, meaning more studies are upcoming to learn more about this strange planet and its equally strange solar system.”
This contribution can and will have a great change in future exoplanet research. As for future plans, Spencer has it all figured out, “I will pursue a career in astronomy, and I have applied to several schools with good astronomy programs and/or are involved in the field of exoplanet study (MIT, Yale, Princeton, etc)”. This high school student is ready to take on life, one star at a time.