Wolf Cukier is a high school teen at the Scarsdale High School, New York. The teenager discovered a planet during his internship period. In his junior year, he got an internship for 2 months with NASA. For this, he went to the Goddard Space Flight Center located in Greenbelt, Maryland.
He had to record the variations in the brightness of different stars as his first task at NASA. The data that he was sifting through was collected via the Planet Hunters TESS project. The star images were taken with the help of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. This satellite is called TESS.
It was only 3 days after he started interning when the teenager discovered a planet. This news was announced by NASA on its website. Cukier has co-authored a paper on the scientific review of his discovery. The planet is about 7 times larger than Earth and is now called “TOI 1338b”. The naming was done during the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
The-seventeen-year old said that he was sifting through eclipse binary system data. These systems are formed when 2 stars revolve around one another and eclipse each other from our view. The teenager saw a dip formed by the TOI 1338 planet system; this is what the first indicator of a planet looks like. Although initially, he had thought it to be another stellar eclipse. Later, he and his mentor noticed not one but 3 dips.
That is how the teenager discovered a planet with the help of his mentor. NASA believes the size of this planet to fall between that of Saturn and Neptune’s. The 1,300 light-years away constellation Pictor is TOI 1338 b’s home. The newly discovered planet is the first planet with 2 stars to be photographed by the TESS. It is a circumbinary planet. The 2 stars along with the planet make something known as an ‘eclipsing binary’. The 2 stars orbit around one another every fifteen days. One of the stars is larger than our Sun.
The teenager discovered a planet and said it was like ‘Star Wars’. A character from the movie called Luke lives in Tatooine, which was a planet with 2 stars, resembling TOI 1338b. Cukier is a ‘Star Wars’ fan and has numerous posters along with a telescope at home.
These circumbinary planets are quite difficult to recognize due to their similarity with eclipses. So the help from interns is crucial. Goddard scientist Veselin Kostov mentioned how human eyes are good when it comes to locating patterns. Especially the non-repeating patterns, because the software struggles with them.
The teenager discovered a planet and made history, now he’s thinking about the future. Princeton, MIT, and Stanford are his top choices to further his education.
Featured image:NBC 4 New York
Video: NASA Goddard