Neil Ibata helped his father, Rodrigo Ibata – a researcher at the Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg – who led a team of astronomers researching dwarf galaxies surrounding Andromeda, the galaxy nearest to our Milky Way.
The younger Ibata’s computer modelling revealed the dwarf galaxies seem to orbit in concert and align in a vast, thin disk.
“I was expecting the complete opposite,” Rodrigo Ibata told the news agency AFP, adding he is “proud” of his son, “but not necessarily for this discovery”.
Although the astronomers are still not sure what this means, they believe the discovery could reshape the understanding of how galaxies are formed.
Neil Ibata said he completed work experience with his father’s team to learn about the computer programming language Python.
He told the newspaper Le Monde his father asked him to help out with the coding, and they completed the remarkable modelling within the space of a weekend in September.
Apart from telling the research team, he told no one else apart from his mathematics teacher at school.
The teenager is an accelerated student at the Pontonniers International School in Strasbourg.
He admits he doesn’t yet know whether he would like to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an astrophysicist, but he will “certainly” pursue the sciences.
The 15-year old is the oldest of three children, speaks German, English and Chinese, and studies piano at the local conservatory.