Nasa intern helps to discover new planet in first week at organisation

James Marshall
January 13, 2020

NASA's planet hunter satellite TESS has discovered an exoplanet orbiting two stars instead of one - and it was identified by a high school intern.

"About three days into my internship, I saw a signal from a system called TOI 1338b".

He continued, "At first I thought it was a stellar eclipse, but the timing was wrong".

Planet TOI 1338 b is pictured orbiting two stars in an undated illustration released by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.Planet TOI 1338 b is pictured orbiting two stars in an undated illustration released by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.NASACukier said it was tough trying to prove his discovery but the data kept pointing to a stronger confirmation.

"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. TOI 1338 b orbits its two stars once every 95 days.

The planet has two suns that orbit each other every 15 days. The other, which only has about one-third of the Sun's mass, is described as being cooler and dimmer.

TOI 1338 b, which is about 6.9 times bigger than the Earth, is located in the TOI 1338 system about 1,300 light years away.

According to the teen, recently obtained data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission made it possible to examine these far-out systems that were previously hidden due to technological constraints. A decrease in the brightness of a single star indicates that a planet has crossed in front of it.

Cukier had just finished his junior year when he started his internship at NASA's Goddard's Space Flight Center in Goddard, Md., last summer.

Circumbinaries are hard to detect, and scientists have now confirmed about two dozen, with the first discovered in 1993.

But the student spotted something unusual while examining TESS' star data. "Our confidence went up and down a couple of times, but by the end of the internship, we were confident that what we found was a planet".

The discovery was announced during a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu, Hawaii.

"I discovered a planet, which has two stars that orbit around".

Being in a star's habitable area means that a planet has temperatures that could permit liquid water to exist on the surface. It orbits in a close plane to the stars, so it experiences frequent solar eclipses, according to NASA. It is about 20 percent larger than Earth.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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