Three Days Into NASA Internship, 17-Year-Old Discovers Rare New Planet


A high school student identified an exoplanet in a star system 1,300 light-years away three days into his internship.

A high school intern identified an exoplanet using NASA’s planet hunter satellite TESS three days into his internship, according to CBS News

The newly found planet is 6.9 times larger than Earth, nearly the size of Saturn, but is unlikely to be habitable. Named TOI 1338 b, it is the only planet in the TOI 1338 system, which lies 1,300 light-years away. The system contains two stars that orbit each other every 15 days. 

TOI 1338 b was identified by Wolf Cukier, a 17-year old high school student who had an internship with NASA last summer. 

“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,” 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 Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite was launched in 2018 and detects whether objects, or planets, pass in front of stars, which causes a temporary drop in the stars’ luminosity. This method allows TESS to infer not only the presence of a planet, but its size and orbit as well. 

Read more.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

What an exciting experience for Wolf Cukier! This is a great example of the real value just about any intern can bring to a program. I hope that employers recognize that high school and undergraduate interns are not there just to learn, though that is certainly important - they are also there to contribute to work that they care about and are interested in advancing.

Science, Futurology, and Analysis