UK school pupils discover rare star

Pupils from UK secondary schools have spotted a rare evolved star, using data from a space telescope

Student scientists from secondary schools in London and Edinburgh have discovered a rare evolved star, working as part of the IRIS cosmic mining project.

The pupils, from Lampton School in west London, The Camden School for Girls in north London, and Larbert High School in Falkirk, Scotland, used data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to find a series of stars coming to the end of their life cycle. The identified stars will provide vital parameters for scientists to compare future astronomical observations. They have also been working with scientists from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), based at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC), to select potential targets on which to base a scientific case for the direction of focus for the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be launched in 2021.

The Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting 2019 welcomed the pupils on Tuesday 2 July to present their findings. The meeting is the biggest annual astronomy and space event in the UK, and pupils presented to an audience of 500 leading scientists from around the world.

Allowing students to contribute to this world-leading forum proves that they can make a real difference to the world around us.
– Prof Becky Parker, IRIS

Professor Becky Parker, director of IRIS and chair of the Royal Astronomical Society Education Committee, said: “This is only one of a handful of times that student scientists have had the exciting opportunity to share their cutting-edge findings at the National Astronomy Meeting.

“Allowing students to contribute to this world-leading forum proves that they can make a real difference to the world around us. These students are the next generation of scientists making pioneering discoveries that the scientific community is taking note of.”

Findings presented by these pupils will also help astronomers understand more about how planets, stars and galaxies were formed and evolved over time. IRIS pupils have helped professional researchers to go through vast amounts of data which would have otherwise taken years to process, therefore speeding up the exploration of clouds of cosmic dust.

From the archive: Students to gain experience at world-class observatory

Dr Olivia Jones, astronomer at UKATC and STFC lead on the IRIS project, said: “The student scientists have made several exciting and unusual discoveries in the Spitzer Spectral archive. Without their help, these discoveries would have remained uncovered.

“Right now I am working with collaborators around the world towards publishing a paper on these discoveries. The student researchers will be our co-authors; that in itself is a great achievement and something of which they should all be extremely proud.”

More information about IRIS is available at