17-Year-Old NASA Intern Discovers a New Planet on His Third Day
NASA has provided humanity with a lens to see beyond the boundaries of our planet. They’ve discovered stars, solar systems, and entire galaxies, and continue to make fascinating discoveries each year.
Generally, the findings are made by seasoned veterans at NASA. However, for one 17-year-old, it was a dream come true when he discovered a new planet on his third day as an intern.
The Never Ending Search for Answers
NASA has accomplished great things in its 70-year history. From putting men on the moon to their part in establishing the International Space Station, they’ve been true space pioneers.
But they also take pride in training the next generation of astrophysicists and astronauts. In fact, they have various summer internships where high school students can get a small taste of what it’s like to work for the space agency.
An Opportunity for the Younger Generation
NASA has an exciting opportunity for high schoolers who want to spend their summers helping the various teams on their quest to better understand our universe.
One lucky kid chosen to be part of the internship was Wolf Cukier. He was accepted into the program after finishing his junior year at Scarsdale High School in New York in 2019.
A Dream Come True
Wolf Cukier began his summer internship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Cukier’s project during the summer was to assess changes in the brightness of various stars recorded by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).
Breaking Down the Mission
In Cukier’s own words, he explained the events that transpired in the lead-up to his fascinating discovery of a new planet.
The young intern said: “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.”
The Young Intern Couldn’t Believe His Eyes
During his first week working with NASA, Cukier encountered something unusual, and soon, he would have the attention of the entire space agency thanks to his remarkable find.
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!”
The First of its Kind for TESS
This was the first time the impressive TESS Satellite had discovered a planet orbiting two stars. The planet was later named TOI 1338b and is around seven times larger than Earth.
The newly discovered star lies in a star system in the constellation of Pictor, which is approximately 1,300 lightyears away from Earth.
How the Discovery Came About
After the 17-year-old’s discovery, he began making headlines all over the world. Cukier would go on to explain in several interviews how the amazing discovery came about.
He said: “I noticed a dip, or a transit, from the TOI 1338 system, and that was the first signal of a planet. I first saw the initial dip and thought, ‘Oh, that looked cool,’ but then when I looked at the full data from the telescope at that star, my mentor and I also noticed three different dips in the system.”
A Star We’ve All Seen Before?
Cukier explained that the planet’s discovery reminded him of his favorite movie franchise, Star Wars. The intern claimed he’s been a massive fan of the franchise for most of his life and even has various posters on his bedroom wall to this day.
What interested him so much about his discovery was its similarity to one of the planets in the popular franchise.
Fans of the Star Wars franchise may remember that the planet where we first meet the beloved hero, Luke Skywalker, is known as Tatooine.
Tatooine is known in the extended Star Wars universe as one of a few planets that has two stars that orbit around it. It’s interesting that Tatooine shares this unique quality with Cukier’s recently discovered TOI 1338b.
A Double Sunset
The young intern explained the significance of such a discovery by explaining that such a planet would have not one but two sunsets each evening.
He said: “So if you think of Luke’s homeworld, Tatooine, from ‘Star Wars,’ it’s like that. Every sunset, there’s going to be two stars setting.”
NASA Gives Their Take
After the discovery, NASA went on to give the young intern praise. The agency claims that planets such as TOI 1338b are challenging to detect as software can easily confuse them for eclipses. So, this is why help from interns like Cukier is beneficial.
After making history, the high school student was left thinking about his future. Cukier says his top three college choices are Stanford, MIT, and Princeton.