Meet the 17-year-old who discovered a planet—yes, a planet
Most 17-year-olds are busy applying to college, doing school work, and hanging out with friends. Tom Wagg from Staffordshire, England has got a little bit more on his plate, because he’s just discovered a brand spankin’ new planet. NBD.
But all of this actually started two years ago, when a 15-year-old Tom, who attends Newcastle-under-Lyme School, was doing research at Keele University. He was searching through an archive of data compiled by telescopes for “good planet candidates,” which involves analyzing images of the night sky looking for dips in light, which are caused by a planet passing in front of its star, according to BBC.
That’s when Tom spotted an undiscovered planet, 1,000 light-years away, orbiting in our galaxy. “It was just my third day when I spotted what looked [like] a good candidate, but I had already gone through more than 1,000 sets of data by then,” Tom told BBC. “It looks boring, but when you think about what you’re actually doing, it’s amazing really.” We don’t doubt you, Tom—the fact that you first spotted a brand new planet at age 15 is nothing short of amazing!
However, it took the next two years to prove that the finding was, indeed, a planet. Coel Hellier, a professor at Keele University, explained to BBC that follow-up observations had to be made in Chile, and astronomers at other universities had to study the findings to prove that it’s the right size and mass to be labeled a planet. But now, it’s official: It’s the real deal.
It’s relatively big—about the size of Jupiter—and it’s in the Southern constellation of Hydra, according to Keele University. “I’m hugely excited to have a found a new planet, and I’m very impressed that we can find them so far away,” Tom said, in a statement released by the university.
“In a way, it’s kind of a relief,” Tom told BBC, “because I’ve kind of been thinking, ‘Yeah, I think it’s a planet, but you’re never quite sure.’ . . . it’s really exciting.” That’s an understatement. A teenager finding a planet is totally unheard of. So what’s the new planet going to be named? A competition is now on to come up with the perfect name, though Tom does get a shot. But for now, it’s been cataloged as WASP-142b.
Tom wants to study physics when he goes to college, but he’s keen on all kinds of sciences, according to the university. “Tom is keen to learn about science, so it was easy to train him to look for planets,” Professor Hellier said.
When asked about his big discovery, Tom was quite humble. “In a way, some of it comes down to luck, at finding it,” he told BBC. “You can be as good as you want, and still never find one.” Whatever you say—we think you’re fabulous, Tom, and we vote that the planet be named after you!