Wolf Cukier, a New York high school student, joined NASA in the summer of 2019 to begin his internship. Although his job at the Goddard Space Flight Center was to look at differences in star brightness, he ended up discovering a new planet after only 3 days on the job.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is located in Greenbelt. The student was supposed to be looking into brightness variations of various stars as captured by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, TESS.
The planet Wolf discovered was about 1,300 light-years away from our planet. Currently, the planet is known as TOI 1338b.
While speaking to CNN, Wolf said he was looking through data for things the volunteers had flagged as an eclipsing binary (two stars circling each other).
However, three days in, he found a signal from a system known as TOI 1338b. Initially, he didn't realize it was a brand new planet:
"I thought it was a stellar eclipse, but the timing was wrong."
That got him thinking, and it turned out that he was looking at a planet.
The Planet Goes Around Two Stars
However, TOI 1388b was a peculiar planet described in technical terms as circumbinary. In other words, instead of going around one star, it orbits two stars.
That makes it the first planet of this kind to be discovered using TESS.
According to NASA Goddard, one of the stars is larger than the sun while the other is smaller than the sun:
"One is about 10% more massive than our Sun, while the other is cooler, dimmer and one-third the Sun's mass."
The new planet, TOI 1388b, is much larger than Earth, and it's somewhere between the sizes of Neptune and Saturn. In fact, this distant planet is about 6.9 times bigger than Earth.
Viral Images Of TOI 1388b
Some time back, someone shared generated images of this new planet, and they immediately went viral.
According to these images, TOI 1388b has a mix of beautiful pastel colors, soft purple, lavender, bubblegum pink, and light shades of green.
Days after being shared on Twitter, the images got over 1.2 million likes and over 224k retweets.
However, it's important to take note of the fact that the images are computer generated with the help of a bot. These are not actual photographs of the planet.
A Twitter user helped explain why we still don't have photos of the planet:
"We don't have telescopes yet capable to resolve all the planets in our solar system (we just recently found out what Pluto looks like after we sent a spacecraft close to it), let alone any exoplanets from other star systems."
Sadly, this reality will be with us over the next half a century, according to this commenter.
Fortunately, the photographic depiction the bots are giving us is very real. It's just that these photos are of an artistic nature.
As usual, internet users had plenty to say about this new discovery. In particular, there were a lot of jokes about it.
Some people claimed that BTS, Harry Styles, and Ariana Grande might have been the first people to discover TOI 1388b.
Others claimed to know how the planet looks and tastes like.
A few showed interest in moving to the new planet and living there.
Clearly, this new planet has generated a lot of buzz, which is why people can't seem to stop talking about it.
The surprising thing is that we have a high schooler to thank for introducing us to this amazing discovery, despite the fact that he was on his third day of internship while doing the completely unrelated job of comparing star brightness.