17-Year-Old Discovers Beautiful New Planet Just 3 Days Into His NASA Internship

On the third day of his internship with NASA, Wolf Cukier from New York discovered a brand new planet lying in a system 1,300 light-years away from us. It looks like a giant bath bomb.

Image credits: NASA Goddard

Working as an intern can often mean doing boring jobs that everyone else hates, like hauling around boxes full of documents or entering data into Excel sheets. For 17-year-old Wolf, however, it all worked out differently.

Back in 2019, just three days into his internship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, the teenager ended up discovering a brand new planet while examining variations in star brightness captured by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, also known as TESS.

Located 1,300 light-years away from us, the planet has a unique pastel-colored appearance that makes it look like a giant bath bomb floating in space.

Wolf told CNN he was in the process of looking through data flagged by volunteers as an eclipsing binary when the discovery happened.

“About three days into my internship, I saw a signal from a system called TOI 1338b. At first, I thought it was a stellar eclipse, but the timing was wrong. It turned out to be a planet,” he explained.

The teenager spotted a pattern which suggested a planet was regularly passing in front of two stars. Image credits: NASA Goddard

The new planet, now known as TOI 1388b, is TESS’s first circumbinary planet, meaning it orbits two stars instead of one. “One is about 10% more massive than our Sun, while the other is cooler, dimmer and only one-third the Sun’s mass,” NASA Goddard writes.

TOI 1388b itself is approximately 6.9 times larger than Earth – somewhere between the sizes of Neptune and Saturn.

The planet orbits two stars instead of one, making it circumbinary. Image credits: NASA Goddard

The teenager definitely has a future in space in his sights. Sure enough, after graduating from high school he wants to go to university.

“When I’m there I’m planning to study physics and astrophysics,” he told BBC. “From there, a career in space research is appealing.”

How to impress your potential new boss? Discover a new planet on day three of your internship at NASA! Photo: Ben Cukier

Recently, someone released a few generated images of TOI 1388b that took the internet by storm. The pictures of the planet got over 1.2M likes and 224k retweets in just a few days.

Image credits: paintwater_boba

Note that these images were created by a bot and aren’t actual photographs of the planet. “We don’t have telescopes yet capable to resolve all the planets in our solar system (we just recently found out what Pluto looks like after we sent a spacecraft close to it), let alone any exoplanets from other star systems. That won’t change in the next 50 years, realistically,” a Twitter user commented. “We cant take photos that far… but it’s real… it’s just artistic depiction of the planet,” another commenter added.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4


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