While some high school students go out partying, some of them are busy discovering new planets! Yes, a high school student allegedly 'discovered' a planet orbiting two stars only three days after starting his internship with NASA.
Meet Wolf Cukier, who had just completed a junior year at Scarsdale High school in New York. His most memorable moment during this time of his high school life was not the prom night but that day when he discovered a new planet. Right after junior year, he joined NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, M.D., for an internship during summer. He has been tasked to look at star brightness variations which have been recorded by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).
The mission of TESS is to find planets, ranging from small rocky ones to giant planets, which will help in understanding the diversity of planets in the galaxy. The TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission operated by MIT in Cambridge and managed by Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA. Dr. Ricker of MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research is the principal investigator of the mission TESS.
Now NASA's TESS, with the help of Cukier, just discovered its first circumbinary planet, which is a type of planet that orbits two stars instead of one. They named it TOI 1338 B. It is almost the size of Saturn, and it orbits its stars every 95 days. These two stars allegedly orbit each other and consist of a small cool M dwarf and the other much like the Sun. Together these two stars form what is known as an Eclipsing Binary. This pertains to the fact that these two stars regularly pass in front of each other from a human point of view.
TESS looks for planets of this kind and other star systems by means of looking for small, regular dips in starlight, which is called "transits." While it saw TOI 1338 B's transits of the large star, experts said that spotting them in the data was not a walk in the park. Cukier examined hundreds of eclipsing binaries to look for planetary transits, which represents some of the eclipses. Finally, he discovered transits caused by the planet. For the sake of comparison, this planet is 6.9 times the size of Earth and it is 1300 lightyears away from home.
This wonder kid also said that this planet is very much like Tatooine, from Star Wars.
"I discovered a planet. It has two stars which it orbits around. So if you think to Luke's homeworld, Tatooine, from Star Wars, it's like that. Every sunset, there's gonna be two stars setting" -Cukier
During an interview with News1, Cukier stated, "There were some ups and downs in our confidence along the way. But it was cool and exciting to see the process." He also has future plans to study with these three top choices in his mind: Princeton, MIT and Stanford.
As TESS will be observing hundreds of thousands of eclipsing binaries, experts say that there are more planets similar to 1338 B just waiting to be discovered. So stay tuned for more space and tech updates. Bookmark this website if you haven't yet!