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by Kevin Coupe

With every generation, there always is discussion of the capabilities of the next generation. Will it measure up? Will it disappoint? Will it surprise?

You never know. But that's one of the reasons it was such a pleasure to read the Washington Post story over the weekend about Wolf Cukier, a 17-year old high school student from Scarsdale, New York, who was doing an internship last summer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

It was a pretty good internship, as those things go. Wolf Cukier discovered a new planet.

It all seems pretty complicated and scientific, and way above my pay grade, but essentially he was reviewing data for NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), and he noticed something out of the ordinary. He brought the information to a research scientist who had never had an intern before, but who enough to pay attention. They spent hours checking and rechecking data, and pretty soon were 99 percent sure that the high school student had made a noteworthy discovery - a single planet, to that point undetected, that was circling two stars.

"The planet, now known as TOI 1338 b, is nearly seven times as large as Earth and has two stars — one that’s about 10 percent more massive than our sun and another only a third of the sun’s mass and less bright," the Post writes.

(The only thing I don't understand is why it hasn't been named Wolf 359.)

In what may be the understatement of the year, Cukier tells the Post that his discovery "definitely colored the rest of the internship. Now, not only was I working on searching for additional planets, I was learning the full verification that goes into verifying a planet when we suspect it to be one."

It is, I think, a great and Eye-Opening lesson in the importance of empowering young people to try new things, and of listening to them when they come up with unexpected insights.

The Post writes that "now a high school senior, Cukier has his sights set on colleges such as Princeton University, Stanford University and MIT where he can major in astrophysics or physics."

Gotta believe that his application essay is going to be killer.
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