15 year old Tom Wagg becomes youngest person ever to discover a new planet

15 year old Wagg was doing work experience at Keele University when he discovered a new planet located 1,000 light years away from Earth and it is outside our Solar System, however within our Milky Way.

Wagg was able to detect a tiny dip in the light of a star as a planet passed in front of it and thus was able to spot the planet. After further observations and study the planet discovered by Wagg has been given the approval of being a planet and the entire follow up procedure took almost 2 years. Hence, now Wagg is 17 years old. He says: “I’m hugely excited to have a found a new planet, and I’m very impressed that we can find them so far away.”

It was during mid 90’s that astronomers had discovered new planets which were named as “exoplanets” and these exoplanets actually redefined the planetary forms. Basically, a planet which orbits a star other than Sun is known as “exoplanet” or “extra-solar planet.”

The new planet discovered by Wagg resembles an ‘exoplanet’ and falls into the class of exoplanets known as “hot Jupiter“.

A “hot Jupiter” is very large in size and more or less similar to planet Jupiter in our Solar System with the only difference being these planets orbit pretty close to their host star. Due to this extreme proximity the exoplanets become very “hot” and it is assumed that the temperature could reach more than 1,000 degree celsius, thus the name “hot” Jupiter. Besides, it takes only 2 days to orbit its host star as it is placed much closer to its host star. On the contrary, our Jupiter takes 12 Earth years or 4,275 days to orbit Sun.

These exoplanets are believed to have moved inward as a result of interactions with another planet in their Star’s system. This is an indication that Wagg’s planet is not the only planet which is orbiting that host star.

The newly discovered exoplanet further is believed to be placed in a distant Solar System within our home galaxy i.e. the Milky Way and thus it is 1,000 light years away from Earth. 

Wagg, an avid space buff, was a student at Newcastle under Lyme School. When he got to know that Keele University had a research group studying the exoplanets, he asked for a work experience week and thoroughly studied the data collected by Keele University’s WASP (Wide Angle Search for Planets) project. The WASP basically searches for tiny dips or any transits that is caused by the passing of planets by scanning millions of stars in the night skies.

Wagg measured the amount of light blocked by the exoplanet when it passed between Earth and the host star. By using a specific technique wherein he measured the amount of light received by Earth from the distant star via graph; Wagg noticed a tiny dip in the light of a star as another planet passed in front of it. The unique size and proximity of these hot Jupiter’s combined with this detection technique and dynamic telescopes it is much easier to spot them.

As of now the planet has not been given any name and has been assigned a catalog number WASP-142b as it the 142nd discovery by the WASP collaboration.

Usually, the astronomers use Kepler Space Telescope to detect the potential exoplanets throughout the Milky Way and astronomers have successfully detected and confirmed over 1,000 exoplanets till date using this Telescope.

However, Wagg’s epic discovery was made through the WASP which uses the technique of collecting light from the exoplanets and scientists generate many light charts from starts across the galaxy.

While speaking in the Keele University Press release, Wagg said :”The WASP software was impressive, enabling me to search through hundreds of different stars, looking for ones that have a planet.”

Planet hunters usually use the WASP technique however this is not a reliable method because there could a number of other reasons for dip in  the intensity of light which could include a scenario like a white dwarf, glitch in technology or even a gas cloud.

This explains why it took two years of follow up study to confirm that the discovered planet was a “real planet”.

As per NASA, it was in 1995 that the first exoplanet was spotted and since then almost 5,000 more exoplanets have been discovered till now. NASA has mentioned on its official website that spotting such planets may very soon provide us with finding another Earth.


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