A BASINGSTOKE physicist has discovered a young planetary system that could potentially change our understanding of how the universe and solar system works.

Alex Hughes, who grew up in Winklebury, discovered four young exoplanets approximately 130 light years from Earth.

It is incredibly rare to find such young planets, which could provide scientists with a glimpse of a little-understood stage of planetary evolution.

Alex discovered the system, which orbits two related stars, whilst completing his final year undergraduate project at Loughborough University, and the project has since attracted international attention, with scientists from NASA getting involved to take it to “new heights”.

Speaking to The Gazette, Alex said: “It has been an unforgettable moment. I never in a million years expected to be involved in this.

“I had no experience in the exoplanets field, I was only just starting my physics career.”

Alex, who was in the army reserves after leaving school before he suffered a leg injury and had to change his career, came across the find whilst combing through data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). He was looking for light arcs, where the light emitted by a star dips, suggesting a planet could be passing in front of it.

As Alex continued to scrutinise the data from TESS and other Earth-based observatories, he noticed that there were three or four potential planets there. “I contacted TESS and they agreed with what I had come to and recommended I wrote it up as a paper,” the 27-year-old continued.

“We knew we had something interesting. By the end of the collaboration we had 30 people on board and a huge amount of data. It really took off.”

He said that the fact that the planets are young makes the system “as special as it is”. “We haven’t had this opportunity to observe planets at this stage of their evolution.

“It gives us a chance to test our theories and things we are not sure on. Moving forward it is going to be super exciting.”

Alex has since moved on to be halfway through a masters degree in Physics and University College London, and said that he already has ideas of future research in the field.

“I have always been interested in space,” he continued. But after he left Fort Hill school, Alex joined the army, before his injury forced him to reconsider.

“I was at a bit of an impasse because I didn’t really have a plan B. I moved from job to job,” he said, working in the retail and medical industries before returning to look at his childhood passion.

Alex now is studying part time, as well as working as a vaccinator at Basingstoke fire station. “It is a very important role and I take it very seriously, but it has been full on. I am looking forward to a point I can chill out!”

If scientists can discover the planets’ masses, the information could help them determine if missions like NASA’s Hubble and upcoming James Webb space telescopes can study the planets’ atmospheres – if they have them.