A school student interning at Nasa helped to discover a planet with two stars, the agency has announced.
In 2019, Wolf Cukier joined Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland, US, as a summer intern, and helped to discover a planet now named TOI 1338 b on his third day at the agency.
He 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.
“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.”
Mr Cukier’s job was to examine variations in star brightness captured by Nasa’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and upload them to TESS’s citizen science project.
The TESS mission began searching for planets in the summer of 2018, and has now discovered its first circumbinary planet, a world orbiting two stars.
The newly-discovered planet, TOI 1338 b, is around 6.9 times larger than Earth. One of its stars is about 10% larger than our Sun, while the other star is cooler, dimmer and only one-third the Sun’s mass.
The planet lies in a system 1,300 light years away from the Earth in the constellation Pictor.
TOI 1338 b’s discovery was featured in a Nasa panel discussion on Monday in Honolulu, Hawaii.
A paper, co-authored by Mr Cukier along with scientists from Goddard, San Diego State University, the University of Chicago and other institutions, has been submitted to a scientific journal.