Sunday, 19 January, 2020


A NASA High School Intern Helps Discover Planet With Two Suns

Tatooine Discovered? NASA's TESS Satellite Finds Exoplanet With Two Suns Thanks to High School Intern NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Kristine Garrett | 13 January, 2020, 18:23

A new planet 6.9 times larger than Earth was recently discovered by none other than a NY teen who has not even graduated high school, but did have the opportunity to intern at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in summer 2019. Seventeen-year-old high school student, Wolf Culkier, found a planet nearly seven times bigger than Earth!

"About three days into my internship, I saw a signal from a system called TOI 1338b. It turned out to be a planet", the intern added.

It's orbiting not one, but two stars at the same time. Cukier's contribution of examining the star data and the passes of the planet in front of both stars was key to identifying it.

Named TOI 1338 b, it is the only planet in the TOI 1338 system, which lies 1,300 light-years away in the constellation Pictor, and orbits its stars every 95 days. The other star is cooler, less bright and only one-third of our sun's mass.

His bosses spent several weeks verifying his observation, and ultimately concluded that Cukier had discovered a planet 6.9 times larger than Earth and only the 13th planet of its kind ever discovered.

According to the teen, recently obtained data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission made it possible to examine these far-out systems that were previously hidden due to technological constraints. Scientists are more likely to find bigger planets, because smaller bodies have a lesser effect on the brightness of a star during their transit.

Elisa Quintana is an astronomer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Circumbinary planets or the planets orbiting two stars are not rare but the TOI 1338 b is the first such planet discovered using TESS data.

The work eventually went on to be featured at a panel at the 235th American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu in this week.

"TESS is expected to observe hundreds of thousands of eclipsing binaries during its initial two-year mission, so many more of these circumbinary planets should be waiting for discovery", the press release continues. But when he noticed the timing was off, he realized there may have been a planet involved. "We don't have a large sample size of binary system planets".

Being in a star's habitable area means that a planet has temperatures that could permit liquid water to exist on the surface.

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