Planet hunting, the Woodhouse way

Dated: 1 April 2019

 
On the 26th of March, A level Physics and Computer Science students presented their physics project at Queen Mary, University of London. The students had been working on their project since November of last year and ended up winning prizes for their research and findings.
 
 
 
The project was based on detecting exoplanets using the high-level programming language Python to model light curves from Kepler data from NASA’s Kepler missions. Before doing independent research on the topic, students completed several exercises to familiarise themselves with python and the physics behind the programming. First year students also had mentors that previously worked on the project from last year to guide and help them. When looking at what to do for their own independent project, helpful support and advice for the development was provided through visits from Professor Nelson (one of the professors at Queen Mary).
 
 
 
In the end, the topic the group were interested in was detecting multi planetary systems (this is when more than one planet orbits the same star).The students worked on detecting planets from NASA’s Kepler 9 data by tracking the dimming of the light from the star the planets are orbiting. The students created two light curves from the data by using python to filter and phase fold the data. From these light curves the students were able to find features of the planets (such as the mass, radius and orbital period) using equations such as Kepler’s third law.
 
 
 
The students found two hot (the planets orbit close to the sun) Jupiter sized planets orbiting the star and possibly a third earth-sized planet. These findings impressed professors at Queen Mary and from several presentations, Woodhouse students were one of the two groups that received a prize for their research.
 
 
 
 
 
Upper sixth students Gera Jahja and Julia Kunikowska commented, “We both wanted to continue from the progress we made on the project last year because of our interest in the topic. While we don’t study Physics at A level we do study Computer Science and have a strong interest in astrophysics. We are happy to have learnt something new and appreciate that our hard work was recognised by Queen Mary since this year we received prizes for our research!”
 
Report by student Gera Jahja 


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