Michelle Kunimoto is an astronomy student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and she certainly has a bright future ahead of her. The young woman has recently used data captured by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope to make some impressive discoveries – 17 planets, to be exact. The new worlds scale from two-thirds of Earth’s size to eight times its size. The most interesting celestial body in the group is KIC-7340288, an Earth-sized terrestrial planet that may potentially have liquid water, and therefore is suitable for life.
We Won’t Be Visiting It Soon
KIC-7340288 is 1,000 light-years away from us, which means that humans won’t be getting there anytime soon. The planet has a year that is 142 and a half days long and lies at 41 million miles from its parent star, which is smaller than our Sun. This places the rocky body in the system’s goldilocks zone, which is why Kunimoto and other scientists believe it can sustain life.
These Aren’t the First Worlds Found by the Astronomy Student
Kunimoto is no stranger to finding new worlds. While obtaining her undergraduate degree at UBC, she discovered four celestial bodies. Her work earned her a place in Forbes magazine 30 under 30 list. Now, she is working on her Ph.D. and used the “transit method” to browse through the roughly 200,000 stars monitored by Kepler. Every time a planet passes in front of a star, it blocks a portion of the emitted light and causes its brightness to decrease. The lights dips are known as transits and they reveal valuable information about the studied celestial body such as its size, orbital radius, orbit duration, etc.
Up to date, the talented astronomy student has discovered 21 new worlds but she isn’t planning on stopping. She wants to reexamine in detail previously suspected “planetary candidates” and verify if some slipped-through-the-cracks. Only time will tell if she will find new worlds but one thing is certain, we do need more bright minds like Michelle Kunimoto.