NASA intern Wolf Cukier helps TESS find an exoplanet, TOI 1338 b, orbiting two stars

TOI 1388b is orbiting two stars in a constellation called the Pictor, which is situated nearly 1,300 lightyears from the Earth.


NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Sattelite (TESS) mission is credited with the discovery of several planets that lie far outside our own solar system.

The latest addition to TESS's list of planets just came recently thanks to the contribution of a high school student. Wolf Cukier, a high schooler interning at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre, spotted a celestial body orbiting two stars in a constellation called the Pictor, which is situated nearly 1,300 lightyears from the Earth.

Christened as TOI 1388b, the newly identified exoplanet is between Neptune and Saturn in terms of size and orbits two stars one of which is 15 per cent larger than our Sun, while the other is considerably smaller.

 NASA intern Wolf Cukier helps TESS find an exoplanet, TOI 1338 b, orbiting two stars

The planet, called TOI 1338 b, is around 6.9 times larger than Earth and lies in a system 1,300 light-years away in the constellation Pictor. Image credit: NASA

Wolf told CNN, "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 1338b. At first, I thought it was a stellar eclipse, but the timing was wrong. It turned out to be a planet."

The TESS mission, which was launched in orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 in April of 2018, and according to CNN, observes a single patch of space for 27 days straight at a time and clicks images every 30 minutes.

The frequent snaps help the scientists identify fluctuations in the brightness of the stars which may be indicative of an orbiting exoplanet. Such planetary movements are also known as transits. TESS is good at identifying transits in the case of bright stars but the same doesn't apply for binary star systems.

Veselin Kostov, a researcher at SETI explained to CNN, "These are the types of signals that algorithms really struggle with...The human eye is extremely good at finding patterns in data, especially non-periodic patterns like those we see in transits from these systems.

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