High school student Wolf Cukier is making headlines. He landed an internship at NASA last summer. This week, the rising senior gained national attention when NASA announced Cukier had discovered a new planet.
Cukier found the planet on his third day at a NASA internship at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. His assignment was to study the eclipse made by two stars crossing paths.
But he noticed something different.
“The planet blocked the light from those two stars, leading to a small dip in the amount of light that reached the telescope. That’s what I noticed at first.”
Cukier studied the phenomenon before alerting his team. This was no time for a rookie mistake. “It was like, ‘Oh, there’s something here.’ It was cool.” Yes, Wolf, very cool.
“At first I thought it was a stellar [star] eclipse,” he says, “but the timing was wrong. It turned out to be a planet.”
Talk about going above and beyond! The planet, now called TOI 1338 b, is actually an exoplanet. That means it’s located outside Earth’s solar system—far outside. TOI 1338 b is about 1,300 light-years away. It’s almost seven times larger than Earth.
Cukier was using NASA’s “TESS” (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) telescope. The telescope’s four cameras take photos every 30 minutes. Volunteers and interns study the data from TESS.
Research scientist Veselin Kostov says planets with two stars, like TOI 1338 b, are difficult for TESS to detect. But he says, “The human eye is extremely good at finding patterns in data.”
Finding a planet is amazing. How much more amazing is the God who actually created every planet and star—and the eye! (John 1:3)
Needless to say, Cukier’s internship is going well. If he ever comes back down to Earth, he plans to study physics or astrophysics at Stanford, MIT, or Princeton.
(NASA intern Wolf Cukier appears on television to explain his part in discovering a planet. Video ABC via AP)