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15-year-old British boy discovers a planet during a work-study internship
It’s going to be hard for future interns to top this whiz kid.
Two years ago, 15-year-old Tom Wagg noticed an interesting change in the light of a star—a calling-card for a planet locked in its orbit. Wagg was only three days into his work-experience internship at Keele University in England when he made the discovery. Now, scientists have confirmed that he did indeed observe a totally new planet roughly 1,000 light-years (5.88 quadrillion miles) from Earth.
“It was just my third day when I spotted what looked a good candidate, but I had already gone through more than 1,000 sets of data by then,” Wagg told the BBC.
Wagg was using a software called the Wide-Angle Search for Planets (WASP), which identifies distant planets by carefully monitoring changes in the light emitted by their stars. Two robotic observatories, one in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern hemisphere, scan the skies for millions of stars at a time and record the resulting data. But it takes a human eye to find the planets.
And with that human eye must come a lot of patience—there’s a ton of data to comb through. But it sounds like Wagg has the perspective necessary to conduct this kind of research. He told the BBC, “It looks boring, but when you think about what you’re actually doing it’s amazing really.”
If you share Wagg’s attitude about astronomy, you don’t have to be a wunderkind intern (or even a credentialed scientist) to spot exoplanets. Citizen-science network Zooniverse hosts a project called Planet Hunters that allows anyone with an Internet connection to join the hunt for exoplanets by analyzing similar data from NASA’s Kepler mission. So far, Planet Hunters have spotted a few confirmed planets and several more potential ones.
Wagg’s planet has yet to be named. For now, it’s known as WASP-142b, but there will soon be a competition to name it. We at the Daily Dot humbly submit Planet Swagg.
Photo via David A. Hardy | Remix by Max Fleishman
Cynthia McKelvey covered the health and science for the Daily Dot until 2017. She earned a graduate degree in science communication from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2014. Her work has appeared in Gizmodo, Scientific American Mind, and Mic.com.