17-Year-Old Student Discovers A New Planet On The Third Day Of Internship At NASA…

Wolf Cukier was a junior at Scarsdale High School in New York. During his junior year, he got a two-month internship with NASA. So he went to Greenbelt, Maryland, to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

As part of the Planet Hunters TESS citizen science project, his first job was to look into changes in the brightness of stars that were picked up by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS. People who don’t work for NASA can help find new planets through the “Citizen Science” program.

Cukier’s internship had only been going for three days when he found a new planet. NASA made the announcement on their website after confirming the teenager’s work, sending a paper co-written by Cukier for scientific review, and announcing the discovery of the planet, now called “TOI 1338 b,” at the 235th American Astronomical Society conference.

Cukier, who is 17 years old, said, “I was looking through the data to see what the volunteers had marked as an eclipsing binary, which is a system with two stars that circle around each other and, from our point of view, eclipse each other every time they circle.” About three days into my internship, I got a signal from a system called TOI 1338. At first, I thought it was a stellar eclipse, but the timing was off. It was actually a planet.

I saw a dip, also called a “transit,” coming from the TOI 1338 system. That was the first sign of a planet. When I saw the first dip, I thought, “Wow, that looked cool.” But when I looked at all of the data from the telescope at that star, both I and my mentor saw three more dips in the system.

TOI 1338 b is 6.9 times the size of Earth. It is between Neptune and Saturn and about 1,300 light-years from Earth. It is in the constellation Pictor. TOI 1338 b is the first planet found by the TESS system that circles two stars. This means that it is a circumbinary planet. Every 15 days, the two stars go around each other in a circle. One of the stars is 10% the size of the Sun. TOI 1338 b and the two stars that make up its system are called a “eclipsing binary.”

NASA says that it is hard to find circumbinary planets like TOI 1338 b because standard algorithms might mistake them for eclipses. This is why interns like Cukier are so important.

After making history, the senior in high school is now thinking about where to go to college. He is most likely to go to Princeton, MIT, or Stanford.

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