So the story goes … that a high school student discovered a new planet (or exoplanet, to be exact) back in 2020, only 3 days into his internship with NASA.
We’d say that’s fairly high up there on the impress-your-future-possible-boss list.
The student, 17-year-old Wolf Cukier from Scarsdale, NY, was examining data beamed back from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) — a space telescope that looks for planets outside of our solar system. He was looking for changes in the brightness of any stars, which if found, might indicate the shadow of a planet passing in front of the star(s). And that’s when he noticed something unusual.
Turns out, it was a planet.
“I was searching for a planet that orbits two stars,” Cukier explains.
When he noticed something blocking the light of TOI 1338 b’s two stars, Cukier flagged it.
“I took it to my mentor, we looked at the data from the stars and noticed two additional dips in the light, so we started doing analysis to see if it actually could be a planet.”
That was all it took to get other scientists involved, and upon further inspection—BOOM—new planet.
Welcome our new bundle of joy, TOI 1338 b, to the planetary database.
When asked, Cukier explained, “I don’t get to name the planet. My brother had the idea of calling it Wolftopia, but I think TOI 1338 b is sufficient.”
The exoplanet has since been confirmed, and is NASA’s first circumbinary find, and because of this, some are having fun comparing this find to Luke Skywalker’s home world of Tatooine, because TOI 1338 b also orbits two stars instead of one, and, one might imagine, would have a dazzling double sunset!
TOI 1338 b, is 6.9 times larger than Earth, almost the size of Saturn, and is the only planet (we’ve found so far), in the TOI 1338 system, which is a mere jaunt-around-the-solar-system distance at 1,300 light years away, in the constellation Pictor.
However, unlike Tatooine, this planet would not be habitable. As Cukier notes, TOI 1338 b is likely to be extremely hot and more than likely doesn’t have a solid surface.
We hope to see more new discoveries from Cukier. Keep looking up! 🙂