17-year-old helps NASA find planet in habitable zone

Alpha Draconis. Image credit NASA  MIT  TESS

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.

A high school student in NY can now add planet discovery on his resume after he found a new world during his internship at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

After only three days on the job - Wolf Cukier - saw what was an anomaly, which ultimately turned out to be an unknown planet -now given the name: "TOI 1338 b".

The planet the first to be captured by the TESS system that is considered a circumbinary planet, meaning it orbits two stars.

"Our confidence went up and down several times, but at the end of the course, we were convinced that what we found was a planet", said Wolf of the rare discovery.

On the other side, according to NASA, he found one of the stars is approx.10 per cent more than the size of the sun and another only a third of the sun's mass and less bright.

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The newly found planet is 6.9 times larger Earth, almost the size of Saturn.

Another first for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is its discovery of a world orbiting two stars, evoking the planet Tatooine from Star Wars but unlikely to be hospitable to life as we know it. It is a great addition to the legacy of a mission that has helped confirm two of the TRAPPIST-1 planets and identify five more. Image: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre.

A NY high school student can put "planet discovery" on his resume after finding a new world during his NASA internship. Now he has co-authored the scientific review of the new planet named TOI 1338 b. There are four cameras for the TESS study of the sky hunting for planets. TESS could only spot the transit of the planet passing in front of the larger star. One of the suns must first decrease in brightness, known as a transit event, so the planet isn't completely obscured. NASA tasks humans with such examination work as the Goddard researcher Veselin Kostov has said that the human eye is much better at finding small changes and patterns compared to an algorithm.

But a planet with two stars makes the transit method a little more hard to spot. But Cukier's human eyes were flawless for finding patterns in the data, most importantly that of the non-periodic patterns like the new planet with two stars.

"It definitely coloured the rest of the internship", Cukier said of his planet discovery.

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