A 17 year old intern at NASA just helped discover a planet a world orbiting two stars

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What did you do to earn some extra credit on your school report card? This guy from Scarsdale in New York state discovered a planet!

What? Your kidding right?

Wrong! Last summer 17-year-old Wolf Cukier had joined NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland for a summer internship. He was asked to studying data from NASA’s space telescope TESS and on the third day of the internship, something caught his eye.

Quick recap, What is TESS?

TESS stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. It is NASA’s space telescope whose sole mission is to look for exoplanets i.e. planets outside the Earth’s solar system.

What did he find?

He discovered a planet that’s nearly 7 times as large as Earth and orbits around two stars. Yes, you read that correctly. If we lived there we would see two suns rising and setting every day, which sounds kind of cool, but also may be a bit confusing.

How did he find this?

Cukier was examining a special type of system found outside the solar system in which two stars circle around each other. These stars often eclipse or block each other as they go about their orbits when viewed from Earth. These special systems are called eclipsing binary systems.

While examing the data he saw a signal. At first, he thought the 2 stars were blocking each other, but then noticed something odd. Wolf observed that the amount of light from the two orbiting stars that was reaching the TESS telescope seemed to be less than that was usually recorded. That is when he realized that there was something else blocking the light!

Wolf along with a team of scientists worked hard to verify the data, and they eventually confirmed the new planet now called TOI 1338 b.

This is even more special because this is TESS’s first circumbinary planet, a world orbiting two stars.

Wolf said in an interview that his family hopes that the planet will one day be renamed Wolftopia! Wolf is a Star Wars fan and hopes that his internship and amazing discovery can be the start of a career as a space scientist.


Written by: Disha Mirchandani. Disha is a former lawyer turned freelance content writer. She is a fitness enthusiast and amateur aerialist with her own fitness photo-blog as well.

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