Teenager Discovered a New Planet on the Third Day of His NASA Internship

Most people sit through countless orientations on the first few days of their job, but one teen discovered a planet — on his third day.

Wolf Cukier, 17, of Scarsdale, N.Y., had wrapped up his junior year of high school when he headed off to intern in the summer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., where he discovered a planet orbiting two stars.

The planet, now known as TOI 1338 b, is nearly seven times as large as Earth and has two stars — one that’s about 10 percent more massive than our sun and another only a third of the sun’s mass and less bright, according to NASA.

It was the second time he had interned at the space research laboratory, having spent the summer of 2018 working on a Goldilocks Zone project under the mentorship of NASA aerospace technology researcher Ravi Kopparapu.

Cukier was invited back to intern at the spaceflight complex, but Kopparapu was not available to provide guidance. Cukier was placed under the tutelage of NASA research scientist Veselin Kostov, who had never had a high school intern, Kostov told The Washington Post.

“I gave him a brief outline of what we do, and he learned everything by himself,” Kostov said. “He learned really quickly. He really developed a very good understanding of the field.”

The summer was the first time Cukier had worked with NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS, the teen said.

TESS monitors the brightness of stars for periodic drops caused by planetary transitsaccording to NASA.

Cukier had a framework of what to look for based on his exploration of the Planet Hunters TESS citizen science project, which allows people to comb through TESS data and categorize star systems, he said.

While looking at an image during his internship, he thought something looked “suspicious,” he said, noting that the image had an additional feature that made him alert Kostov.

“After we saw the original transit, we looked at the full light curve and saw three transits,” Cukier said.

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Source: Washington Post