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17-Year-Old Student Discovers A New Planet On The Third Day Of Internship At NASA

Wolf Cukier, a junior at Scarsdale High School in New York, got a two-month internship with NASA during his junior year. So he went to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

His first task was to investigate fluctuations in star brightness acquired by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, as part of the Planet Hunters TESS citizen science initiative. (The citizen science initiative lets people who do not work for NASA to assist in the discovery of new planets.)

TOI 1338 b is 6.9 times the size of Earth (between Neptune and Saturn) and is situated in the constellation Pictor, approximately 1,300 light-years distant from Earth. TOI 1338 b is the first circumbinary planet discovered by the TESS system, which means it circles two stars. The two stars orbit each other every 15 days, and one of them is 10% the size of the Sun. TOI 1338 b and its two stars form what is known as an "eclipsing binary."

According to NASA, circumbinary planets like TOI 1338 b are difficult to discover since standard algorithms might misinterpret them for eclipses, which is why interns like Cukier are crucial.

After making history, the high school senior is now considering his college options. Princeton, MIT, and Stanford are his top three options.

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