17-Year-Old NASA Intern Discovers New Planet

Published on January 12, 2020

A New York teen accomplished something out of this world: he discovered a new planet. 17-year-old Wolf Cukier of Scarsdale was on his third day at his internship with NASA when he discovered a new planet 1,300 light-years away. Additionally, this is the first time NASA has found a planetary system with two stars. 

The planet, officially named TOI 1388b, is estimated to be seven times larger than Earth. It orbits two stars, which means two sunsets can be seen on the planet, similar to Luke Skywalker’s home planet in Star Wars. According to NASA reports, one of the stars the planet orbits is 10% larger than our sun, and the other is only ⅓ of the sun’s mass. 

In a press release issued by NASA, Cukier’s mentor Veselin Kostov explained the human eye is better equipped for detecting subtle patterns than the programmed algorithm. Thus, making a good job for an intern. 

“I was looking through the data for everything the volunteers had flagged as an eclipsing binary,” 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.”

Cukier, only in his senior year of high school, has already been published alongside some of the US’s leading researchers due to his discovery. The teen co-authored a journal based on his findings in June, which is currently under review. Cukier’s work was presented in Honolulu this week at a panel at the 235th American Astronomical Society. 

The NASA press release continued by stating, “TESS is expected to observe hundreds of thousands of eclipsing binaries during its initial two-year mission, so many more of these circumbinary planets should be waiting for discovery.”

Cukier said he plans to finish his last year of high school and attend either Stanford, MIT, or Princeton University and study astrophysics.

Sarah Kocur is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Las Vegas, she is a writer, radio host, and music enthusiast. She also writes for EDM.com

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