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Westchester High School Senior Discovers Planet During NASA Internship

Researchers working with data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) have discovered the mission’s first circumbinary planet, a world orbiting two stars, with the help of a Scarsdale High School Student
Researchers working with data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) have discovered the mission’s first circumbinary planet, a world orbiting two stars, with the help of a Scarsdale High School Student Video Credit: NASA Goddard

Three days into a summer internship at NASA, 17-year-old Scarsdale High School senior Wolf Cukier discovered a brand-new planet 1,300 light-years away.

Using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, Cukier found a “circumbinary planet,” or a celestial object that orbits two stars. Cukier’s discovery came in June, but it was only brought to light this week by NASA at the 235th American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu.

“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.”

NASA noted that a paper , which Cukier co-authored along with scientists from Goddard, San Diego State University, the University of Chicago and other institutions, has been submitted to a scientific journal.

Cukier’s planet, now called TOI 1338 b, resides in the TOI 1338 system, which is in the constellation Pictor, NASA said. The two stars orbit each other every 15 days. One is about 10% more massive than our Sun, while the other is cooler, dimmer and only one-third the Sun’s mass.

TOI 1338 b is the only known planet in the system. It is nearly seven times larger than Earth, between the sizes of Neptune and Saturn.

Though he’s already discovered a planet, Cukier reportedly plans on studying physics or astrophysics at Stanford, MIT, or Princeton when he graduates from Scarsdale High School later this year.

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