NASA’s planet-hunting TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) mission has found many intriguing planets since it first began searching the sky in the summer of 2018, but a high school intern Wolf Cukier searching through its data contributed to its latest discovery. The planet, TOI 1338 b, orbiting two suns around 1,300 light-years away in the Pictor constellation, like Tatooine in the Star Wars films, is the first of its kind for the TESS mission. Read more for a video and additional information.
Cukier was interning for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center over the summer when he spotted something in TESS’ star data, and that was TOI 1338 b. It’s the only planet in the Pictor constellation with two stars. The planet is between the sizes of Neptune and Saturn and experiences regular eclipses from its stars. The stars whirl around each other in orbit every 15 days or so, with one 10% more massive than our sun and the other is more diminuitive and cooler.
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 1338. At first I thought it was a stellar eclipse, but the timing was wrong. It turned out to be a planet,” said Cukier.