High School Student Discovers New Planet Just 3 Days Into NASA Internship

by : Cameron Frew on : 10 Jan 2020 14:02
High School Student Discovers New Planet Just 3 Days Into NASA InternshipNASA

Just three days into his NASA internship, a high school student discovered a whole new world. 

Last summer, after finishing up his junior year at Scarsdale High School in New York, Wolf Cukier joined NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, as an intern.


On his third day, the 17-year-old was examining information captured by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). At first, he thought he came across a stellar eclipse: it turned out to be a planet.

Check out NASA’s video about the new planet below:


TOI 1338 b, as it’s now known, is the first circumbinary planet (a planet that orbits two stars) to be discovered by TESS, sitting 1,300 light-years away in the constellation Pictor.


In a NASA news release, Cukier explained: 

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.

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.

The space agency’s release further explains that TOI 1338 b is currently the only known planet in the system. It’s estimated to be 6.9 times bigger than Earth (between the sizes of Neptune and Saturn, so pretty bloody big).

TOI 1338 b NASA New Planet 2.jpgNASA

The planet orbits the two stars every 95 days, while the two stars orbit each other every 15 days (one of them is 10% bigger than our own Sun, while the other is only a third of the Sun’s mass).

Along with being featured in a panel discussion at the 235th American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu, Cukier’s co-authored a paper regarding his extraordinary day three finding, which has since been submitted to a scientific journal.

In an interview with News 12, the teen planet-spotting prodigy likened TOI 1338 b to Tatooine, Luke Skywalker’s home in Star Wars.

TOI 1338 b NASA New PlanetNASA

Cukier said: ‘I discovered a planet, which has two stars that orbit around. So, if you think to Luke’s homeworld, Tatooine, from Star Wars, it’s like that. Every sunset, there’s going to be two stars setting.’

However, he wasn’t allowed to name the planet as such. ‘Planets discovered by TESS get a TOI number if they don’t have another significant name already,’ he explained to the New York Post.

While his internship got off to a bracing start, he added: ‘Funny thing is, I didn’t find anything else for the rest of the internship, even though I found one on like day three.’ One planet is still pretty good, mate.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Science, Astronomy, NASA, planet, Space, universe


NASA and 2 others
  1. NASA

    NASA’s TESS Mission Uncovers Its 1st World With Two Stars

  2. News 12

    Scarsdale teen’s internship at NASA leads to planet discovery

  3. New York Post

    Scarsdale teen discovers new planet while interning at NASA