While interning at NASA, a teenager from New York discovered a planet 6.9 times larger than Earth that revolves around two stars.
17-year-old Wolf Cukier, a former intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, was entrusted with skimming through data on star luminance from the facility’s continuing TESS or Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite mission. The senior at Scarsdale High School was peering at a foreign system situated 1,300 light-years from Earth. He claimed he then observed what seemed to be a mild darkness in one of the system’s stars.
“I had a lot of data in my notes that day about extremities in the binaries,” said Cukier. “But when I saw this one, I put 10 asterisks next to it.” Once he tagged the finding to his research mentors, the teen spent weeks with other scientists and them verifying his hypothesis. NASA stated Cukier’s discovery was a rarity because circumbinary planets are typically difficult to locate and scientists can only observe these planets in the midst of a transit event when one of the suns displays a reduction in brightness.
Cukier noted it was tough attempting to prove his discovery but the statistics kept pointing to a strengthened confirmation. “Our confidence went up and down a couple of times, but by the end of the internship, we were confident that what we found was a planet,” he explained. Cukier’s unveiling and deeper research that he did with other scientists at NASA signified the first time the TESS program found a planet in orbit of two suns.
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