While plenty of kids are given the advice that one is never too young to start changing the world, it’s pretty safe to say very few teens have discovered a whole new planet. But on this third day of work experience at the University of Keele, England, Tom Wagg—then 15 years old—was observing a star some 1,000 light years away when he noticed a small blip in the light that suggested a planet may be passing by, and orbiting, the star. Two years on, after further study by astronomers at the University of Geneva and the University of Liege, it’s been confirmed that Tom has in fact discovered a previously unknown, yet to be named, planet.
Tom discovered the planet while looking at data from the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) project, which monitors millions of stars to look for the tell-tale dip—or transit—in light that suggests a given star may be host to a planet. The one that Tom was able to identify has been given the designation WASP-142b, as the 142nd planet discovered using data from the WASP collaboration.
The extra-solar planet lies in the southern constellation of Hydra. While it is about the size of Jupiter, it orbits its star every two days—creating frequent transits that make it somewhat easier to identify. It’s too far away to be seen clearly, but an artist’s rendition shows that the hemisphere facing the star is likely blasted by irradiation, while the other hemisphere remains cooler. It’s close orbit to the star suggests that it may have been pushed inwards by another planet, and it is likely that there is another planet orbiting this star.
Of the discovery, Tom said “The WASP software was impressive, enabling me to search through hundreds of different stars, looking for ones that have a planet,” adding that “I’m hugely excited to have a found a new planet, and I’m very impressed that we can find them so far away.” With stellar grades in school, and the discovery of a planet under his belt, Tom, now 17, hopes to study physics at university.
WASP-142b, meanwhile, doesn’t yet have a name, but the International Astronomical Union has started a contest to name extra-solar planets, and Tom is reportedly excited to suggest a name for his planet.
Images via the University of Keele