17-Year-Old NASA Intern Discovers First World With Two Stars

Katie Ramirez
January 13, 2020

The newly-discovered planet, TOI 1338 b, is around 6.9 times larger than Earth. TOI 1338 b orbits its two stars once every 95 days. The other, which only has about one-third of the Sun's mass, is described as being cooler and dimmer.

Wolf Cukier, 17, from Scarsdale, New York, made the discovery while peering through the agency's orbiting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess) a year ago.

"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, according to a Nasa press release. "It turned out to be a planet", he said in a NASA statement. The goal is to find new planets, and sure enough, on his third day, Cukier spotted a tiny darkness on a distant sun. The first such discovery came in 1993.

While thousands of skywatchers gathered across the world to glimpse a rare annular solar eclipse, others tested a theory. "But it's also not like there's a single moment of discovery". Within just a few days, he made an incredible find while sifting through variations in star brightness captured by the space agency's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) uploaded to the Planet Hunters TESS citizen science project.

Cukier's planetary finding was featured in a panel discussion on Monday at an American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu, the agency said, and a paper co-authored by the high school student has been submitted to a scientific journal.

Cukier's internship took place over the summer at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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Proxima Centauri, which is the closest star to planet Earth, is approximately four light years away. It orbits in a close plane to the stars, so it experiences frequent solar eclipses, according to NASA. TESS was launched in 2018 to expand on the work of earlier exoplanets that space telescopes had discovered.

A budding teenage astronomer will have a impressive addition to his college application after discovering a planet during his summer internship with NASA. "We designed it with planets in mind, but other members of the community use it to study stars, asteroids and even galaxies".

Star TOI 700 is small, about 40 percent of our sun's size and only about half as hot.

TESS discovered three planets in orbit, named TOI 700 b, c and d.

Being in a star's habitable area means that a planet has temperatures that could permit liquid water to exist on the surface.

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