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15-Year-Old Work-Experience Student Discovers a New Planet

15-year-old Tom Wagg made the discovery while on a work-experience program at Keele University. (Image:Keele University /Keele Observatory)
15-year-old Tom Wagg made the discovery while on a work-experience program at Keele University. (Image:Keele University /Keele Observatory)

A teenager in England has now become somewhat of a celebrity after finding a new planet 1,000 light years from earth.

15-year-old Tom Wagg made the discovery while on a work-experience program at Keele University.

He was studying data collected from the Wide Angle Search for Planets project, when “he spotted the planet by finding a tiny dip in the light of a star as a planet passed in front of it.”

“It’s really exciting. I was amazed. It’s definitely something you can tell people about,” the teen told local newspaper The Sentinel.

An artist's impression of Tom's planet, WASP-142b, orbiting its star, WASP-142. The planet is depicted as seen from a hypothetical moon. A second, dimmer star is seen in the background. Being 1000 light years away, the planet is too distant to obtain a direct image. Picture Credit: David A. Hardy.  http://www.astroart.org/

An artist’s impression of Tom’s planet, WASP-142b, orbiting its star, WASP-142. The planet is depicted as seen from a hypothetical moon. A second, dimmer star is seen in the background. Being 1000 light years away, the planet is too distant to obtain a direct image. (Image: David A. Hardy. http://www.astroart.org/)

It took two years, but the now 17-year-old student received the call he had been waiting for, the confirmation that he had discovered a new planet. It is a large gas planet that has similar properties to Jupiter, is in the southern constellation of Hydra, and is unlikely to support any form of life.

“I’m hugely excited to have a found a new planet, and I’m very impressed that we can find them so far away,” said Tom.

According to The Guardian, although credited with the discovery, Wagg has not been allowed to name the planet he discovered, which will be decided by competition entries coordinated by the International Astronomical Union. The new planet has been temporarily termed WASP-142b, because it is 142nd discovery by the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) project, whose data Wagg had been searching through.

`I'm hugely excited to have a found a new planet, and I'm very impressed that we can find them so far away'', says Tom. Image:Keele University /Keele Observatory

‘I’m hugely excited to have a found a new planet, and I’m very impressed that we can find them so far away,” said Tom. (Image: Keele University/Keele Observatory)

“Tom is keen to learn about science, so it was easy to train him to look for planets”, says Professor Coel Hellier, who leads the WASP project at Keele. Tom has since achieved 12 GCSEs, all at A*, and wants to study physics at university, wrote Keele University in a statement.

“I had no idea what kind of work I’d be doing on the placement, let alone what I’d discover,” Wagg said. “When I realized what it could be, I was astonished. It’s been a real boost to me to carry on with science.”

Even a 15-year-old can make a difference. Good luck to this young man. Maybe we will hear his name associated with the next big discovery.

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