NASA's planet hunter satellite TESS has discovered an exoplanet orbiting two stars instead of one — and it was identified by a high school intern. The announcement of the circumbinary planet prompted comparisons with Luke Skywalker's home world of Tatooine in the "Star Wars" movie series, with its bewitching double sunsets.Three days into his internship? I'm shocked he wasn't still taking computer safety, sexual harassment and ethics training at that point.
But the newly found planet's size alone — it is 6.9 times larger than Earth, almost the size of Saturn — makes it unlikely to be livable. Named TOI 1338 b, it is the only planet in the TOI 1338 system, which lies 1,300 light-years away in the constellation Pictor, and orbits its stars every 95 days.
The two stars orbit each other every 15 days. One is about 10 percent bigger than our Sun, while the other is cooler, dimmer and only one-third the Sun's mass.
TOI 1338 b was identified by Wolf Cukier, a 17-year-old high school student who had an internship with NASA last summer.
"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," Cukier said. "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."
The system had been flagged as an eclipsing binary, where two stars circle around each other and eclipse each other from our point of view. But after going over the data, Cukier realized that a planet was present too.
Circumbinaries are difficult to detect, and scientists have now confirmed about two dozen, with the first discovered in 1993.
I hope I'm wrong, and he goes onto a brilliant scientific career.
An interesting video on how the planet was discovered. I think it makes the data look cleaner than it actually is.
It must be pretty rare for the two suns and the planets orbit to line up with our solar system, so you can see the eclipses.