Tyler Fairnington, in only his third year, identified a hot super-Neptune and warm Neptune pair located around 500 light years from Earth called TOI-5126. His research is set to be published in the peer-reviewed MNRAS scientific journal.
Exoplanets are often categorised by how “Neptune-like” they are. “Hot Neptunes” are rare and have atmospheres hotter than 900 degrees while more common “warm Neptunes” orbit further away. Super Neptunes, meanwhile, are planets more massive than our own Neptune.
“Initially, I used data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to identify a promising candidate system,” Fairnington said.
“I was looking for a particular type of planet, one that has a size between Neptune and Saturn, as we don’t have anything of a similar size in our solar system.
“TOI-5126 had one of these rare super Neptunes. Due to its proximity to its host star, it’s likely to have a temperature of over 1,000 degrees.
“The key question was, how does a planet of this size form and is it unique – or are there many more out there?”
After months of research, Fairnington applied for time use of the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS – CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite – despite a tough competitive process.
CHEOPS is dedicated to studying bright, nearby stars already known to host exoplanets. It aims to make high-precision observations of the planet’s size as it passes in front of its host star.
“I remember receiving the award notification at around 2am – and I was filled with energy,” he said.
“CHEOPS is a larger telescope than TESS, so it can provide planet measurements with much higher precision.
“We received three visits (to our selected system) by the telescope, each lasting around 10 hours.
“This really helped to nail down the true size of the planets, confirming to us that it was indeed a super Neptune.
“As a discovery paper, my work provides a blueprint for others looking to investigate the system.”
Fairnington is now targeting further planetary research, having submitted a new proposal to the European Southern Observatory.
“I’ve been very fortunate – the University of Southern Queensland has some of the best exoplanet researchers in the country,” he said.
“And with this research project, everything fell into place.
“I always loved space, but through this work, I feel like I have found a home in studying exoplanetary systems.”
Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.
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