A teenager who was working as an intern at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) discovered a planet by accident.
According to the space agency, 17-year-old Wolf Cukier was working last summer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center when he found TOI 1338b, a planet that orbits two stars instead of one.
“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,” he said. Then he saw a signal from one of the systems.
“At first I thought it was a stellar eclipse, but the timing was wrong. It turned out to be a planet,” he added.
Wolf had only been working three days as an intern at NASA when he made the discovery.
A report by People says TOI 1338b is the first circumbinary planet — a planet that orbits 2 stars instead of one (like the Earth) — that was discovered using the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a space telescope designed to search for exoplanets.
TOI 1338b is 6.9 times larger than Earth, and is within a system that is 1,300 light-years away.
Wolf had just finished his junior year in high school. Like other teens his age, he is fascinated by science fiction, prompting him to liken his discovery to a pop culture phenomenon: Star Wars.
“I discovered a planet, which has two stars that orbit around. So, if you think to Luke’s home world, Tatooine, from Star Wars, it’s like that. Every sunset, there’s going to be two stars setting,” he said.
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And although he maybe would have wanted to name the planet he discovered, he clarified that “New planets discovered by TESS get a TOI (Transfer Orbit Insertion) number if they don’t have another significant name already.”