On third day as a NASA intern, 17-year-old discovers a unique planet

Space Science
TOI 1338 b Wolf Cukier

An image of TOI 1338 b as it transits the two stars it orbits. (TESS / NASA)

MYSTERY WIRE — When NASA announced a new discovery on Monday, it credited 17-year-old Wolf Cukier — an intern who spotted something in a pile of data on his third day:

In 2019, when Wolf Cukier finished his junior year at Scarsdale High School in New York, he joined NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, as a summer intern. His job was to examine variations in star brightness captured by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and uploaded to the Planet Hunters TESS citizen science project.

“I was looking through the data for everything the volunteers had flagged as an eclipsing binary, a system where two stars circle around each other and from our view eclipse each other every orbit,” Cukier said. “About three days into my internship, I saw a signal from a system called TOI 1338. At first I thought it was a stellar eclipse, but the timing was wrong. It turned out to be a planet.”

The discovery of a world orbiting two stars — a “circumbinary planet” — is unique.

TOI 1338 b lies 1,300 light-years away in the constellation Pictor. The two stars orbit each other every 15 days. One is about 10% more massive than our Sun, while the other is cooler, dimmer and only one-third the Sun’s mass. It is the only known planet in the system. It’s around 6.9 times larger than Earth, or between the sizes of Neptune and Saturn. The planet orbits in almost exactly the same plane as the stars, so it experiences regular stellar eclipses

TOI stands for “TESS Object of Interest.” Maybe NASA will see fit to name the planet for Wolf Cukier someday.

A planet that orbits two stars instead of one. and it was identified by a 17-year-old high school student, just 3 days into his NASA intership.

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