High school student discovers new planet on his third day of internship at NASA

Being an intern at such a prestigious company as NASA is surely something one can be proud of. Spending your intern days learning and discovering new things with the people who poured out their hearts and minds into a noble cause is a feat worth looking forward to every single day.

Inasmuch as interns work extra hard to please their supervisors, this teen simply had the best time of his life after discovering a PLANET in just 3 days since he started at NASA!

Photo Credits: Independent UK

Wolf Cukier, 17, of Scarsdale, New York, had wrapped up his penultimate year of high school when he headed off to intern in the summer at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, where he discovered a planet orbiting two stars.

According to Independent UK, the planet, now known as TOI 1338b, is nearly seven times larger than Earth and has two stars – one that’s about 10 percent more massive than our sun, and another only a third of the sun’s mass and less bright, according to Nasa.

It was the second time he had interned at the space research laboratory, back in the summer of 2018, he worked on a Goldilocks Zone project under the mentorship of Nasa aerospace technology researcher Ravi Kopparapu.

Photo Credits: Independent UK

Because of his impressive performance, Wolf was invited back to intern at the space flight complex and was placed under the supervision of Nasa research scientist Veselin Kostov who never had a high school intern.

“I gave him a brief outline of what we do, and he learned everything by himself,” Mr Kostov said. “He learned really quickly. He really developed a very good understanding of the field.”

The summer was the first time Wolf worked with Nasa’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess). Tess monitors the brightness of stars for periodic drops caused by planetary transits, according to Nasa.

The teen, being overly interested in stars had a framework of what to look for based on his exploring the Planet Hunters Tess citizen science project, which allows people to comb through Tess data and categorize different star systems.

While looking at an image, Wolf thought something looked “suspicious,” he said, noting that the image had an additional feature that made him alert Mr. Kostov.

“After we saw the original transit, we looked at the full light curve and saw three transits,” Wolf said. Wolf and Mr. Kostov spent hours verifying that the additional features they were seeing were real by looking through multiple data sets.

“It was just Wolf and me in the first couple of hours, and when we were 99 percent certain the two traits we saw were real, we started reaching out to colleagues,” Mr. Kostov said.

“It definitely colored the rest of the internship,” Wolf said of his planet discovery. “Now, not only was I working on searching for additional planets, I was learning the full verification that goes into verifying a planet when we suspect it to be one.”

Photo Credits: Independent UK

That process included using different data tools and involving researchers from the University of Chicago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and San Diego State.

TOI 1338b was featured in a panel discussion Monday at the 235th American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu, according to Nasa.

Wolf couldn’t name the planet, but his brother offered a better substitute: Wolftopia.

Now, Wolf is continuing his studies as a high school and has his sights set on colleges such as Princeton University, Stanford University, and MIT, where he can major in either astrophysics or physics.

The future sure is bright for Wolf given his achievement at such a young age. We hope he can pursue his dreams and discover more amazing things for the rest of the world to know.