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Alexandra Mahajan

Cambridge Rindge & Latin School
Cambridge, MA

A Novel Method To Determine Precise Stellar Radii and Temperatures of Low Mass Stars Using JWST Transits and Occultations

Alexandra Mahajan used data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to develop a new method to measure both the radius and temperature of small stars more precisely. She believes her work will advance our understanding of habitable and Earth-like planets, stellar evolution, and planet formation.

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Alexandra Mahajan, 17, of Cambridge, developed a new method to measure the radius and temperature of small stars for her Regeneron Science Talent Search space science project. Alexandra chose to study small stars because they are the most promising hosts of habitable planets and are particularly poorly understood. She initially tried to use data from NASA’s TESS telescope, which was designed to search for planets in other solar systems, but found that the TESS telescope was too small to effectively measure small, low-mass stars.

She then found and analyzed archived and previously published data from the more powerful James Webb Space Telescope. She modeled this data to determine parameters that best matched the observed data, thereby achieving measurements of the radius and temperature of the low-mass star called GJ 1214 that were much more accurate. Moreover, she found that her approach should allow more precise measurements of many other low-mass stars.

2024 Science Talent Search finalist Alexandra Mahajan

The daughter of Satayan Mahajan and Caroline DeStefano, Alexandra attends Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. In her spare time, she writes, records, and produces music, and sells T-shirts that she designed herself to promote ocean conservation.

2024 Science Talent Search finalist Alexandra Mahajan

Beyond the Project

Alexandra uses her cello as a key instrument in her pop music. She has played cello since age 5 and has performed throughout the Greater Boston area with the New England Conservatory.

FUN FACTS: Alexandra is an ethical graffiti artist and loves to toss up new characters and designs in Graffiti Alley in Central Square (legally, of course). The colorful Alley is in her hometown of Cambridge.

Illustration of 2024 STS finalist Alexandra Mahajan by Amy Wike