For some, it is a dread doing an internship; others would find it exciting while some others could find a brand-new planet in NASA! Just last year, Wolf Cukier, who is 17 years old, did find something extraordinary during his summer vacation in his senior year.
He helped in discovering a new planet, TOI 1338 b, the modern world that is 1,300 light-years away. This new world has two stars orbiting at the same time, which is unlikely but very incredible.
Just last year in July, Cukier was finishing his junior year at the Scarsdale High school in Scarsdale, New York. He began his internship at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He had the task of scrutinizing the data that had been beamed back from the space by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or the TESS.
What is significant about this TESS is that it allows people to volunteer to watch the online transmission for patterns in the brightness of the star, which could eventually suggest a discovery of a start. It could be crowdsourcing of the universe, or so they say.
In his first week of internship, he was going through data that were recorded by citizen-scientists. He zeroed in on two orbiting stars. He noticed something odd. He was able to identify a body on that system and was verified as a planet that was 6.9 bogger than Earth. Probably the size of the Saturn planet. It completes an orbit every 93-95 days.
That being said, the irregularity of the transit period is because of the two orbiting stars which the planet has to orbit. His workmates gave that system a name, TOI 1338, TOI stood for the acronym for TESS Object of Interest. Later on, it was called TOI 1338 b.
During an interview, this high school intern said, “I was looking through the data for everything the volunteers had flagged as an eclipsing binary, a system where two stars circles around each other and from our view eclipse each other every orbit. “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.”
“It was awesome. I never expected to find anything. The fact that I found something is cool, and seeing the scientific process and how many people have to work to verify the planet, and techniques for things like that, it is awesome”, he added.
According to Veselin Kostov, a research scientist at SETI and NASA Goddard, “These are the types of signals that algorithms struggle with. The human eye is extremely good at finding patterns in data, especially non-periodic patterns like those we see in transits from these systems.”
The planets with two suns are not natural for TESS to detect, but the contribution of this young man in examining the star data and the planet pass and the two stars were keys to discovering this brand-new planet.
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