NASA announced on Monday that a new planet was discovered orbiting 2 stars approximately 1,300 light-years from planet Earth. The planet, TOI 1338 b, was captured by TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite). The first person to report notice the planet from the satellite’s data was a 3-day-old NASA intern – Wolf Cukier.
Cukier said, “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.”
Wolf Cukier was tasked with examining variations in the brightness of stars during his Summer 2019 internship at NASA. NASA tasks humans with such examination work as the Goddard researcher Veselin Kostov has said that the human eye is much better at finding small changes and patterns compared to an algorithm.
Cukier continues to say, “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 is a high school senior and has said that he is continuing to look for more planets, according to an interview he gave with ABC News. The paper written on the discovery is co-authored by Cukier and is now under review by a scientific journal.
TOI 1338 b and TESS
The newly discovered planet is almost 7 times the size of planet Earth. 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. That means the “binary sunsets” that are depicted in Star Wars films might be possible on this planet.
NASA’s press release says, “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.”
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