Vermonter discovers two new planets for his senior thesis

A man sits in front of a building with a laptop.
Jack Duranso outside the Shattuck Observatory at Dartmouth College on Monday, August 21, 2023. Photo by Max Scheinblum/VTDigger

Jacques Doranso knew from a young age in Kitchi that he wanted to do something in science, even though the job details changed “week by week,” he says.

The scope finally narrowed in the summer of 2016 when, in his first year of high school, he attended an astronomy summer camp run by Vermont Governor’s Institutes. Astronomy as a comprehensive field intrigued him, but this experience opened his eyes to the nitty-gritty.

“I really enjoyed the data manipulation and the work in general,” he said. “So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll continue with this as long as I’m still interested in it.'” And I’m still very interested. So it’s resolved.”

before Graduated from Hartford High School In 2019, Doranso built a telescope as part of his tribute, saying he “dipped my toes in it” and “kind of taught” himself how to take in and use astronomical data.

But that was paltry compared to his latest venture: the discovery of two exoplanets – distant planets outside Earth’s solar system – 257 light-years away.

Planetary discovery is the centerpiece of Doranso’s roughly 130-page thesis at Dartmouth College, not far from where he originated.

“I think we often have a few undergraduates a year working on research that leads directly to a published paper,” he said. Elizabeth Newtonwho has been an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth since 2019. “But I haven’t had an undergraduate research yet, so this is definitely a first for me.”

Doranso said the thesis took a year and a half of intense work, and was published when he graduated in June with a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy. Doranso said exoplanets are the “sweet spot” in astronomy — they’re far enough away that you can’t see them from your backyard, but they’re easier to understand than things like galaxies or the composition of the universe itself.

“For me, it’s easier to connect with him because astronomy is a more elusive concept or field of study,” he said. “It’s just really interesting. I live on a planet, so what are the other planets like?”

The two planets, TOI 3353b and TOI 3353c, are nearly three times the size of Earth and share features with the ice giant Neptune. Duranceau found them using data from Temporary Exoplanet Survey SatelliteOr TESS, which was launched by NASA and MIT in the spring of 2018.

TESS tracks about 200,000 stars through space, looking for dips in brightness caused by planetary transits, which is when a planet orbits between the star and the telescope’s view.

Doranso’s two planets are two of the 230 exoplanets discovered so far this year, bringing the total number to 5,496, according to NASA. NASA data. Although astronomers have been interested in these discoveries since the early 1990s, as of 2013 fewer than 1,000 were confirmed.

man holding a telescope
Jack Duranso looks through a telescope inside the astronomy lab at Dartmouth College’s Wilder Hall on Monday, August 21, 2023. Photo by Max Scheinblom/VTDigger

But as transit technology improved, the number rose to nearly 3,500 in 2016, when NASA’s K2 Kepler mission Significantly increased surveillance. Since TESS launched in 2018, NASA has recorded an average of 332 discoveries per year.

The first element of Doranço’s thesis was the assertion that planets are, in fact, planets. TESS only refers to the potential, hence the astronomers’ experience and modeling are required to ensure that the decrease in light is due to planet interference, and not any other phenomena such as Star spots.

Doranso created a computer model using what he calls a long, fancy algorithm to simulate the parameters required for a planet to be in the area. He’s done this more than 30,000 times, taking several weeks, tweaking and tweaking all the time to make sure the hypothetical conditions are still true. These were then successfully compared to the original TESS data, and two more planets were officially born.

“It’s very good. And honestly, I was excited that I got the model to work, like running my code. Because when I went in, I knew there were probably two planets here.” “So it wasn’t really a (one) moment of confirmation. It was like, each time, improving the probability, improving the confidence that there are two planets here so that we can say they really are.

Once the numbers proved correct, Doranso had to date the system by looking at how much lithium the star had — something he had extensive experience with during his sophomore and early years working in Dr. Newton’s laboratory group. It found that the host star, TOI 3353, is 22.8 million years old, relatively older than the aging crowd of exoplanet solar systems.

“It’s really important to study young stars because a lot of the dynamic activity that’s going on in those systems — like atmospheric loss, like planets losing their atmospheres or moving in and out of the star, or planets migrating, or getting closer to or away from the star — all of that,” he said. “It happens within the first few hundred million years.” “So if we only look at older stars, we miss a lot of this event. … The whole goal is to learn more about how planets evolve over time.

in spite of Characteristics of the ice giantHis model also showed that both planets orbit the star TOI 3353 from a distance of only 4.6 million miles and 7.4 million miles. This compares to 2.8 billion miles away for Neptune, its closest relative in Earth’s solar system. Newton said the two are also between the size of Earth and Neptune, “which is a very common result of the planet formation process,” but something of which there are no examples in Earth’s solar system.

Doranso aims to expand and solidify his research over the next year while continuing to study under Newton’s direction. He plans to publish a peer-reviewed paper based on his findings and then attend graduate school for his Ph.D.

“It’s been really great to have him in the group for the last couple of years and we’re delighted he’s been around for a while,” said Newton.

Despite what some might consider an exhausting, long, and exhausting scientific process, grinding clearly doesn’t bother Doranço. And with his love of statistical analysis and “make my own fun plots,” he could be a star in making his own.

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