JUN 15, 2015 4:57 AM PDT

He Doesn't Drive Yet, But He Found a Whole New Planet

Who remembers being 15 years old? Wasn't life great? Hanging out with friends, playing video games and probably slacking off on homework. Teens that age are on a journey trying to find out who they are and what their purpose is, but still, the biggest goal in the lives of many teenagers is likely getting a driver's license or maybe even a date.
An artist's depiction of what the newly discovered planet, WASP 142b, might look like.
For one British teenager however, this time of exploration and discovery has been a bit different. While many schools hold career days or take students on field trips to observe professionals in a variety of jobs, Tom Lagg, a student at a secondary school in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, a village about two hours north of London, went a little further. Tom asked for and received an internship, known as a "work experience week" at a nearby university and it would turn out to be a historic choice.

Fifteen years old at the time, Tom Lagg, asked his school to arrange the week at Keele University when he found out about the university's program to investigate and locate exoplanets. Exoplanets are the new darlings of the astronomy world. Exoplanets are those planets that orbit a star other than the sun. They tend to be similar in size and atmosphere to Earth and astronomers have so far found about 5,000 of them. Researchers believe that finding more exoplanets will yield new information about how Earth was formed and perhaps even lead to the discovery of a planet that is habitable.

Imagine the surprise in the astronomy world when this young student, only at Keele for a short time, managed to find a planet no one knew existed. Tom waded into the data provided by the WASP Project, short for the Wide Angle Search for Planets, a consortium of UK scientists collaborating with other countries, that collects data from the skies in a sweeping nightly search for any evidence of other Earth like planets. Lagg saw something he knew was no average twinkly little star. Small fluctuations in light when a planet passes in front of its hosting star are the telltale signs of an exoplanet and young Tom spotted a small dip in the amount of light coming from a star about 1,000 light years away and knew it was significant.

In a statement from Keele University, Tom said, "The WASP software was impressive, enabling me to search through hundreds of different stars, looking for ones that have a planet. I'm hugely excited to have found a new planet, and Im very impressed that we can find them so far away."

The new planet is roughly the size of Jupiter and has a close orbit around its host star, making the trip around its personal sun in only two days. Planets that orbit that quickly are somewhat easier to find since the transits, the official name for the dimming of light as the planet passes in front of the host star, happen more frequently.

Tom actually found the planet almost two years ago and since then researchers at the University of Geneva and the University of Liege have been working together to verify the finding. The planet has yet to be named and is simply known by WASP 142b, since it's the 142nd planet to have been discovered.

Now older and wiser at the ripe old age of 17, Tom has gone on to complete a dozen General Certificates in Secondary Education, in a variety of subjects (straight A levels of course) and hopes to study physics during his university years.

Now that it's been verified, a paper is currently being written with all the details of the discovery and verification process and a contest is being considered to give the new planet a proper name.


Sources: CNN, BBC, Keele University
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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