17-year-old discovers planet three days into NASA internship

High School Student discovers planet three days into NASA internship

A high school student discovered a new planet three days into a summer internship with NASA.

Wolf Cukier, a student at Scarsdale High School, joined NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, last summer to examine images captured from a satellite and uploaded to the Planet Hunters citizens 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."

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TOI 1338 has two orbiting stars: one about 10% larger than the sun; and a dimmer, cooler one about one-third the size of the sun. The two stars orbit each other every 15 days. They irregularly circle the planet every 93 and 95 days.

Finding it was no easy feat.

While it is 6.9 times larger than Earth, planets orbiting two stars are more difficult to detect than those orbiting one. It is also 1,300 light years away in the constellation Pictor.

Researchers have found about 12 circumbinary planets in 10 systems since 1993.

Wolf Cukier discovered TOI 1338 three days into an internship with NASA.
Wolf Cukier discovered TOI 1338 three days into an internship with NASA. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)