Featured Article: “How’s Your Internship Going? This Teen Found a Planet”
Wolf Cukier, a teenager from Scarsdale, N.Y., spent the summer before his senior year interning at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. In his time interning, he identified a body that was later confirmed to be a planet, now known as TOI 1338 b.
In this lesson, you will learn about the process that Wolf was a part of that invites everyday people to become scientists. In the Going Further activity, you will be given a chance to become a planet hunter yourself — or participate in another citizen science project.
What do you know about how planets are discovered and identified? In the article, Wolf scrutinized data that was collected from TESS, or the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. To learn more about how TESS works to gather data, watch this Times video from 2018 and answer the questions.
What is the “wobble method” of planet hunting?
How did the Kepler space telescope spot planets by using starlight?
What does the TESS spacecraft look for to identify planets? What do scientists hope TESS will be able to accomplish? How might TESS’s findings contribute to our knowledge of space?
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions:
1. What was Wolf responsible for doing in his internship? How did he work to identify TOI 1338 b?
2. How do TESS’s camera and graphing systems operate? Can you explain the systems in a way that a fifth grader could understand?
3. Veselin Kostov, Wolf’s mentor and a research scientist, talked about the shortcomings of algorithms in analyzing TESS’s data. How does the thought process that Wolf went through when first looking at the TOI 1338 b data support Mr. Kostov’s point?
4. What was the verification process that scientists went through to confirm planet TOI 1338 b?
5. How has Wolf talked about the experience of identifying an exoplanet?
The article refers to “citizen science,” which is scientific research, observation or analysis done by everyday people. Have you ever wondered about the herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) in your area or wanted to make your city safer for cyclists? Maybe you’ve observed how your dog has aged over time or you’re interested in the precipitation levels in your region. These are all examples of citizen science projects that you could be a part of, or that could inspire you and your class to create your own.
After reading the article, we encourage you to support and contribute to NASA’s TESS by searching for exoplanets using TESS’s observation tool: Planet Hunters TESS. You will first need to read a short tutorial on how to identify and mark transits, and then you can become a planet hunter. If you prefer to look at images of planets, you can help scientists to characterize surfaces on Mars using Planet Four: Terrains and Planet Four: Ridges.