Women in science

This college senior & “Star Trek” fan discovered four new planets while studying astronomy

Professor Jaymie Matthews and Michelle Kunimoto. Photo: Martin Dee, University of British Columbia

A 22-year-old woman whose interest in space began while watching Star Trek on TV as a youngster discovered four new planets while doing her undergrad coursework at the University of British Columbia. Michelle Kunimoto, a senior at UBC, was analyzing data from the Kepler space telescope as part of her school work when she found what are known as “exoplanets” or planets that orbit stars other than the sun. And one of the planets found by Kunimoto may have conditions that could support life, according to the report.

“I was given light curves from Kepler that scientists had already gone through,” Kunimoto told Motherboard.

While looking at those light curves, Kuniomoto found signals in the light curves that suggested possible planets, two of which are about the size of Earth, one that is close to Mercury’s size, and one that is larger than Neptune. The Neptune-sized planet, which she describes as a “warm Neptune,” is close enough to its host star that temperatures could support liquid water which could, potentially, make it habitable to living things. Kunimoto’s work has been submitted to The Astronomical Journal, but perhaps even more exciting to the UBC undergrad, as recognition for her discovery she was given backstage tickets to meet William Shatner at her university’s centennial celebration this spring.

Read the full story at Motherboard.

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