A New Planet Called TOI 1338b Was Discovered By A 17-Year-Old Student During His NASA Internship

Many of us were probably still figuring out how to use the copier on our third day of an internship. Well, when 17-year-old Wolf Cukier interned at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the summer of 2019, he was already assigned with some serious tasks. Among them was examining variations in star brightness captured by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). And as if that weren’t impressive enough, he even managed to discover planet TOI 1338b, as it is known now, only three days into his internship.

This exoplanet is currently the only known planet in the TOI 1338 system. It lies in the constellation Pictor, about 1,300 lightyears away from Earth. NASA describes it as a “Neptune-like planet” that’s around 6.9 times larger than Earth. But what truly makes this planet special is the fact that it’s circumbinary, which is a first for the TESS mission. This means that it orbits around two stars, unlike typical planets which orbit around only a single star.

 

“The two stars orbit each other every 15 days. One is about 10% more massive than our Sun, while the other is cooler, dimmer and only one-third the Sun’s mass.”

These two stars also constitute an eclipsing binary. This means that they often pass in front of each other from our point of view here on Earth. Meanwhile, TESS hunts for potential planets in these systems by observing distinct dips in the star’s brightness. These dips or slight dimmings are typically due to the passage of a planet in front of its star or simply transits.

 

NASA’s TESS mission’s first circumbinary planet, now known as TOI 1338b, was discovered by an intern named Wolf Cukier

Apparently, planetary transits of circumbinary planets are more difficult to detect. In fact, Cukier had also mistaken it for a stellar eclipse at first.

 

“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.”

Recently, generated photos of the circumbinary planet have surfaced on Twitter, and people couldn’t help but marvel at its beauty. The planet looks magical, as it features delightful shades of pastel pink, purple and green. Overall, the combination of these charming colors gives the planet sort of an iridescent look. So, it’s no surprise that the tweet has garnered over 1.2M likes and 232.3K retweets to date.

 

 

 

 

Naturally, people online had a lot to say about this enchanting exoplanet

From bath bombs, ice pops and powder highlighter to Ariana Grande, BTS and Harry Styles, people have come up with all sorts of things that remind them of this planet. Check out more of their hilarious comparisons below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s worth pointing out, though, that the photos are merely generated by a bot and are not actual photos of the planet

 

 

Learn more about planet TOI 1338b in the video below

Sources: NASA | NASA Goddard