How a 15-year-old found a new planet in three days
At age 15, my biggest accomplishment may have been getting my driver’s licence. It seemed huge at the time, but a British teenager named Tom Wagg has shifted my perspective on things, having found a new planet on the third-day of a week-long internship. Considering the kind of jobs many of us may have had at that age, it definitely begs the question of how on Earth Wagg, or anyone else, finds planets outside our solar system.
Wagg was analyzing data from the Wide Angle Search for Planets, or WASP. With the software’s assistance, he was looking at photos across multiple time frames for instances where the light from stars was temporarily obscured or dimmed. This can happen when something big like a planet passes between Earth and the star as part of its orbit.
What did Wagg and WASP find?
In this case, the newly christened WASP-142b was an interesting discovery, as its yearly orbit only takes two days to complete, meaning it was causing frequent, regular light fluctuations. It’s around the same size as Jupiter, but has no daily rotation. Instead, as a tidally-locked planet, one side of the planet is always facing its local star, and is thus always hot while the dark side is always cold (think of how our moon always has the same hemisphere facing the Earth.)
Wagg is attributing his discovery to luck, although his grades point to him not being an intellectual slouch either. While he described the actual work as “boring,” he’s planning on studying physics in the future. A paper documenting WASP-142b should be published soon, hopefully in time for Wagg’s graduation.
Source: This teenager discovered a new planet on his third day at work by Abby Phillip, Speaking of Science