Published: Mon, January 13, 2020
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

High schooler discovers new planet during NASA internship

High schooler discovers new planet during NASA internship

Well, be prepared to feel inadequate because this 17-year-old intern at NASA discovered a new planet on his third day.

A few days into his internship, Cukier was studying eclipsing binaries - solar systems where two stars circle each other - when he noticed something unusual.

Cukier continues to say, "About three days into my internship, I saw a signal from a system called TOI 1338".

The planet, now called TOI 1338 b, is the first circumbinary planet, a world that orbits two stars, detected by TESS. Cukier's contribution of examining the star data and the passes of the planet in front of both stars was key to identifying it.

"TOI 1338 b's transits are irregular, between every 93 and 95 days, and vary in depth and duration thanks to the orbital motion of its stars". The two stars orbit each other every 15 days, the space agency said, noting that one is about 10 percent larger than our Sun. The other, which only has about one-third of the Sun's mass, is described as being cooler and dimmer.

According to NASA, the newly discovered planet is about 6.9 times as large as Earth- between the sizes of Neptune and Saturn. NASA assigned him to look at star brightness variations that had been recorded by the space program's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which aims to find planets outside the Earth's solar system.

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Elisa Quintana is an astronomer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The first such discovery came in 1993. Since its inception, it has discovered multiple planets.

"Our confidence went up and down a couple of times, but by the end of the internship, we were confident that what we found was a planet", he said. "We designed it with planets in mind, but other members of the community use it to study stars, asteroids and even galaxies".

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

The discovery was discussed earlier this week during a panel discussion at the 235th American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu.

Cukier identified the planet, which prompted comparisons to Tatooine from the "Star Wars" films, as the planet has twin "sunsets" from its dual stars.

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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