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Student awarded use of top space telescope

2 min read
18 Oct 2023
man holding research space object
Mr Fairnington is preparing for the publication of his first academic paper, having also been awarded time on the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS space telescope.

As a University of Southern Queensland undergraduate student, Tyler Fairnington hasn’t only reached for the stars; he’s set the bar high among them.

Now in his third year of an astrophysics degree, Mr Fairnington is preparing for the publication of his first academic paper, having also been awarded time on the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS space telescope.

His paper centres on the discovery of a multi-planet system, TOI-5126, which contains a rare hot super-Neptune and warm Neptune pair located around 500 light years from Earth.

“Initially, I used data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to identify a promising candidate system,” Mr 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 1000 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, Mr Fairnington applied for time use of the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS space telescope, an internationally competitive process.

“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.”

Mr Fairnington now has his sights set on further planetary research, having submitted a new proposal to the European Southern Observatory for the use of their telescope.

“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.”

Learn more about Astrophysics at the University of Southern Queensland.