Teen NASA Intern Discovered New Planet

Pablo Tucker
January 13, 2020

A teenage intern on his third day helping out at a Nasa program to find worlds beyond our solar system has discovered a previously unknown planet with two stars 1,300 light years from Earth away in the constellation Pictor, the agency has announced.

In the summer of 2019, Wolf Cukier had just finished his junior year at Scarsdale High School in NY when he landed a summer internship at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "I discovered a planet". Scientists have named the planet as TOI 1338 b, where TOI stands for TESS Object of Interest.

TESS stabilizes on one area of the sky to detect whether objects - planets - pass in front of stars, which causes a temporary drop in the stars' luminosity. The event is called a transit, which TESS's cameras can capture.

According to NASA, the two stars orbit each other every 15 days.

The teen, who had just finished his junior year at Scarsdale High School when he made the discovery, likened TOI 1338 b to fictional planet Tatooine in an interview with News 12 published Wednesday. "About three days into my internship, I saw a signal from a system called TOI 1338".

Wolf Cukier discovered a planetary system with two stars while first time working for NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess) programmed. "It turned out to be a planet".

These kinds of planets, called circumbinaries, are hard to identify. He was assigned to examine variations in star brightness captured by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and upload them to the Planet Hunters TESS citizen science project. He initially thought the dip in brightness was a result of one of the stars in the system passing in front of the other. He then identified it as a planet and consulted on his find with his mentor.

Algorithms "really struggle" with these kinds of signals, said Veselin Kostov, the lead author of the study and a scientist Goddard and the SETI Institute.

But the student spotted something unusual while examining TESS' star data.

The discovery even featured at a panel discussion during the 235th American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu. One of the planet's stars is about 10 percent bigger than the Earth's sun, but the second star is much smaller at about just 33 percent mass of the Earth's sun. "Every sunset, there's going to be two stars setting", he said.

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