Many of us were probably still figuring out how to use the copier on our third day of an internship. Well, when 17-year-old Wolf Cukier interned at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in the summer of 2019, he was already assigned with some serious tasks. Among them was examining variations in star brightness captured by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). And as if that weren’t impressive enough, he even managed to discover planet TOI 1338b, as it is known now, only three days into his internship.
This exoplanet is currently the only known planet in the TOI 1338 system. It lies in the constellation Pictor, about 1,300 lightyears away from Earth. NASA describes it as a “Neptune-like planet” that’s around 6.9 times larger than Earth. But what truly makes this planet special is the fact that it’s circumbinary, which is a first for the TESS mission. This means that it orbits around two stars, unlike typical planets which orbit around only a single star.
“The two stars orbit each other every 15 days. One is about 10% more massive than our Sun, while the other is cooler, dimmer and only one-third the Sun’s mass.”
These two stars also constitute an eclipsing binary. This means that they often pass in front of each other from our point of view here on Earth. Meanwhile, TESS hunts for potential planets in these systems by observing distinct dips in the star’s brightness. These dips or slight dimmings are typically due to the passage of a planet in front of its star or simply transits.
NASA’s TESS mission’s first circumbinary planet, now known as TOI 1338b, was discovered by an intern named Wolf Cukier
Apparently, planetary transits of circumbinary planets are more difficult to detect. In fact, Cukier had also mistaken it for a stellar eclipse at first.
“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.”
Recently, generated photos of the circumbinary planet have surfaced on Twitter, and people couldn’t help but marvel at its beauty. The planet looks magical, as it features delightful shades of pastel pink, purple and green. Overall, the combination of these charming colors gives the planet sort of an iridescent look. So, it’s no surprise that the tweet has garnered over 1.2M likes and 232.3K retweets to date.
look at this planet that nasa found…shes gorgeous… pic.twitter.com/Msn7wyVtGd
— jessi has komaeda brainrot (@paintwater_boba) January 16, 2021
Naturally, people online had a lot to say about this enchanting exoplanet
From bath bombs, ice pops and powder highlighter to Ariana Grande, BTS and Harry Styles, people have come up with all sorts of things that remind them of this planet. Check out more of their hilarious comparisons below!
a planet…just for the gays theys and girlies?
— jasmine 😉 (@voss71833152) January 17, 2021
nasa has released new photos pic.twitter.com/XFAZUD5Brl
— ? 1 Z? ? ? D (@L422Y) January 17, 2021
fun fact: ari was the first one to discover the planet pic.twitter.com/SL0YbmA4DA
— i’m a bad lil’ bitch, hitta ? (@B4DDESTBARB) January 18, 2021
*nasa has found planet ariana pic.twitter.com/ge5oBF5Q2J
— will (@myhairwhore) January 17, 2021
i see no difference pic.twitter.com/nzmFtlW3XH
— jm (@bampdnim) January 18, 2021
That is where Harry filmed the visuals for Two Ghost… pic.twitter.com/R5SgAY8F9t
— Love Wins ALW28S?? (@LoveAlw28s) January 17, 2021
The street pic.twitter.com/DGxvLvYRLA
— Kuz?n & Lee’s character arcs (@growitheflow35) January 17, 2021
It looks like one of these pic.twitter.com/8zEZ3CroBV
— sad cats birthday (@Nekomo428110) January 18, 2021
I bet it tastes like these? pic.twitter.com/ofEsWTWQqJ
— MissDjCandy (@missdjcandy) January 18, 2021
not my instagram-addled brain thinking this looks exactly like an opalescent powder highlighter pic.twitter.com/Dy5zuaKE73
— Hayley MacMillen (@hlmacmillen) January 17, 2021
Saturn is much closer and has the same climate. I suggest investing now, while real estate is rock bottom.
— Sealand People’s Republic Government in Exile (@isaac32767) January 17, 2021
It’s worth pointing out, though, that the photos are merely generated by a bot and are not actual photos of the planet
Hello! I’m the creator of the bot that made these photos! You are free to use them in any way you want, but please clarify that these are generated photos so that there isn’t any confusion that these are real!
— Among Stars Bot (@AmongBot) January 18, 2021
Learn more about planet TOI 1338b in the video below