High School Student Discovers New Planet Just 3 Days Into His NASA Internship
13 January, 2020, 18:22
Wolf Cukier, an intern at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre, spotted a celestial body orbiting two stars in a constellation called the Pictor, which is situated almost 1,300 lightyears from the Earth. The latest update to the list is the discovery of a planet with two suns found by a high-school student interning at NASA.
"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, according to NASA, which announced the discovery last week. The suns in this system, TOI 1338, orbit each other on a 15-day basis with a transit event every 93 to 95 days.
The planet uniquely orbits around two stars - TOI 1138 A and TOI 1338 B. Such orbits are known to be unstable/unpredictable, however, NASA estimates that the orbit will remain stable for the next 10 million years.
"I noticed a dip, or a transit, from the TOI 1338 system, and that was the first signal of a planet", Cukier told NBC 4 NY. The other, which only has about one-third of the Sun's mass, is described as being cooler and dimmer.
The newly-discovered planet, TOI 1338 b, is around 6.9 times larger than Earth.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched its planet-hunting mission called TransitingExoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in 2018. "We don't have a large sample size of binary system planets".
Circumbinaries are hard to detect, and scientists have now confirmed about two dozen, with the first discovered in 1993.
Elisa Quintana is an astronomer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA's Kepler and K2 missions previously discovered 12 circumbinary planets in 10 systems- all similar to TOI 1338 b.
Scientists say they confirmed the planet information using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Only "d" is in the so-called "Goldilocks zone", not too far from and not too close to the star, where the temperature could allow the presence of liquid water.