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Carmen Zxyriel, Christian Acran, Ahmed Zalcaria and Pablo Montilla with their teacher, Javier Cáceres. Josele
From Marbella to Nasa: the school pupils who made a stunning discovery about outer space
Astrobiology

From Marbella to Nasa: the school pupils who made a stunning discovery about outer space

Four youngsters have come up with a theory about Jupiter and the sun which has earned them praise from the world's most important space organisation

María Albarral

Marbella

Tuesday, 30 April 2024

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Galileo, Copernicus or Kepler... will the name of someone from Marbella soon join the constellation of great astronomers? We cannot answer that question yet, but we can say, without fear of contradiction, that Marbella has the talent for it. Carmen, Cristian, Pablo and Ahmed are four students from IES Profesor Pablo del Saz who, at the mere ages of 12 and 13, have achieved an unparalleled feat: they have been congratulated by NASA for their theory on the periodicity of the sun's spots.

"Sir, we think we have discovered something". With these words, faces of astonishment and excitement to the extreme, these young students of 1st ESO told their teacher, Javier Cáceres, their discovery: the period of Jupiter around the sun is 11 years and coincides with the value of the sunspot cycles, so this planet could be affecting our main star.

It all came about as part of the activities of the astrobiology subject this school in Marbella has been teaching for the past three years as an optional subject, being pioneers in Spain in teaching it.

"Every day we looked at the sun through the telescope and drew the spots. The teacher told us to do some research on this topic and the four of us joined forces to get information and study. That's when we realised the coincidence and the evidence seemed very clear to us," Ahamed said.

So, with just paper and pencil and the curiosity to learn, these students have come up with a theory that the most refuted astronomers with the best technical equipment are still developing.

"I was very surprised when they told me the conclusions they had reached and I couldn't believe it. I had never thought about it before and there is hardly any information on the subject. It seems that everything fits together and that Jupiter affects the sunspots. I am very excited and proud," said Cáceres, who after his students' theory began to write and contact professional astronomers from several countries with whom he has done research in astrophysics.

"I asked them about current professional research based on the subject and they replied that there is very little because it has never been believed that planets could affect sunspots and there has not been much research on the subject," said the teacher, who has been able to find very recent research from 2022 and 2023 where teams of astronomers from the USA, France and Spain tried to demonstrate this relationship.

Skype with 'the stars'

All these conclusions, theories and hypotheses have reached the ears of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The organisation was so shocked it issued congratulations to the youngsters and, not only that, it also invited them to make a Skype video call to put a face to them and to be able to chat. "We are living a dream. I want to be an astronaut and talking to NASA is the best," said Pablo.

So, while waiting to close agendas, these children are living a real adventure and will be able to share experiences with Frits Paerels, professor at Columbia University and Caleb Scharf, Carl Sagan Medal for Astronomy Outreach in the USA and director of astrobiology at NASA. "It's super exciting to know that we're going to be talking to them and everything we're experiencing. Every day we are looking forward to continuing our research and seeing if we can discover more things," said Christian.

This experience is making these young people more fond of science and physics, and they are planning to continue studying and advancing in the subject. "It has all been very exciting. When we told the teacher what we had found, he told us that we were going to win a Nobel Prize... it was incredible! We are very happy," added Carmen.

These four students also hope to one day be able to visit the Kennedy Space Center, famous for being NASA's main launch centre for manned space flights.

Astrobiology

The astrobiology subject at IES Profesor Pablo del Saz is only three years old and it was one of the first schools in Spain to implement it. Currently, there are around 25 pupils in the class.

Every day they look through the telescope and observe the spots on the sun, which they draw on paper and compare over time. They also study the solar system and have learned the true dimensions and order of the planets. "Many books don't have the solar system well represented and there are many mistakes that people believe. Studying and learning about it is exciting and we want to keep learning," said the four young astronomers from Marbella.

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