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Teen Intern on 3rd Day: What's This Black Dot?

Wolf Cukier, 17, spotted a new planet for NASA
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 11, 2020 2:00 PM CST

(Newser) – There's nothing like a good intern—and Wolf Cukier proves it. The New York teen joined a NASA program last summer and spotted an unknown planet orbiting two stars about 1,300 light-years away. "It was awesome," he tells the New York Times. "I never expected to find anything." The 17-year-old had joined NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to help look over images from the TESS satellite. The goal is to find new planets, and sure enough, on his third day, Cukier spotted a tiny darkness on a distant sun. He then spent weeks working with his research mentors and other scientists confirming that the sun's decrease in brightness was in fact a planet, per ABC News.

The planet's name isn't catchy—TOI 1338-b, partly an acronym for TESS Object of Interest—but it's interesting in other ways. It's 6.9 times bigger than Earth and orbits two suns, the first such "circumbinary" planet discovered by TESS. One sun is about 10% the size of Earth's, the other 30% the size; they orbit one another every 15 days, and Wolf's find can be seen crossing them in a so-called "transit event" every 93 to 95 days. Wolf seems humbled by it all: "You can’t be arrogant," says the budding astrophysicist. "It is a planet, insofar as we can claim any other exoplanet, pretty much." Still, his brother tells the Washington Post he's got a better name for the new planet: Wolftopia. (Read more NASA stories.)

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