NASA intern finds new planet

Anna Schenkel, Assistant News Editor

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Internships can lead to many discoveries, both in and out, of this world.

While interning at NASA over the summer of 2019, Wolf Cukier, a teenager from Scarsdale, New York, discovered a new planet. Although it was only his third day, Cukier worked under the leadership of scientist Veselin Kostov at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland when he made this discovery.

This was not the first time Cukier had worked with NASA. Under NASA aerospace technology researcher Ravi Kopparapu, Cukier spent the summer of 2018 in the space laboratory as well.

The new planet is called TOI 1338 b and was found through NASA’s orbiting system known as Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). TESS has four separate cameras, which capture photos of select parts of the sky every 30 minutes. Through TESS’s system, planets cause what is called a dip in a star’s brightness by passing in front of the star from Earth’s viewpoint.

“I noticed a dip from the TOI 1338 b system, and that was thefirstsignalofanewplanet,”Cukiersaid in an interview for The Hill.

TOI 1338 b is 6.9 times larger than Earth and has two stars. Since it orbits too close to its sun, the new planet is not habitable. It is the only known planet within its binary star system. Located around 1,300 light-years away from Earth, TOI 1338 b’s two stars madethe planet difficult to detect because of their different sizes.

The recently discovered planet, named TOI 1338 b, is 6.9 times bigger than Earth and is circumbinary, meaning that it orbits two stars instead of one. Wolf Cukier, a 17-year-old intern for NASA, made this discovery three days into his internship. Bing Images.

Although Cukier discovered this three days into his internship, it took the rest of his summerinternship to be confirmedby other team members.

The verification of the planet was announced on Monday, January 6 at the 235th American Astronomical Society in Honolulu, Hawaii. Although TESS has been around for two years, this was the first circum binary discovery made through the system.

According to The Washington Post, “TESS is the only instrument that would allow us to discover this type of planet,” Kostov said.

Cukier wants to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or Stanford next year for college and hopes this discovery can help others in the future.