The headline about a NASA intern discovering a new planet on his third day at work, caught my attention. Did I mention the intern hasn’t graduated from high school yet?
A summer intern, Wolf Cukier, was only half-way into his first week at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, when he discovered a planet orbiting two stars. The planet, now known as TOI 1338b (catchy name) is almost seven times the size of Earth and has two stars, one of which is larger than our sun.
Congratulations to Master Cukier, the pride of Scarsdale, New York. Just imagine the first day of school this past fall when his teacher asked the class, “So, what was a highlight of your summer vacation?” Volunteered responses probably went something like…
“We went to Six Flags and my little brother threw up on the rollercoaster.”
“I mowed yards and made enough money to buy an ’87 Corolla.”
“I was sent to YMCA camp while my parents went on a cruise.”
And then the teacher sees a bored kid in the back of the class and says, “Wolf, what did you do this summer?”
“I discovered a planet.”
Naturally, I have a few questions.
1. How did everyone else at NASA miss a planet seven times the size of Earth with a tagalong star larger than the Sun?
2. Did Wolf not press for a more interesting or marketable name for the planet he discovered? If scientists get diseases named after them, why not give junior astronomers the naming rights for a planet? And let’s face it — “The Wolf Planet” certainly has more curb appeal than TOI 1338b. Plus, “The Wolf Planet” is a sci-fi movie just begging to be made with endless sequels and merchandising.
3. How did the highly educated and richly salaried employees and executives at NASA feel about a high schooler finding a planet that was right there under their noses the whole time? Isn’t that like not being able to find your glasses and having someone point out that they’re on top of your head?
4. Was this an unpaid internship? It was?? Wolf, I get it that this will look really good on your college application, but if you discovered a planet and two stars for free and you didn’t get naming rights for any of them, then you got used, bro. For your next internship you need an agent. Call me.
5. When you discover a new planet on your third day at the office, do they let you take the rest of the week off?
6. After discovering a planet in the first week on the job, do you wonder if you perhaps peaked too early? Isn’t the remainder of the internship all downhill from there? What if soap opera actress, Susan Lucci, had won a daytime Emmy the very first year she was nominated? How could she have really appreciated it? Imagine how much more satisfying it was for Susan in 1999 to finally win the award after being nominated a record 18 previous times.
7. When you discover a planet on just your third day in the biz, doesn’t that create lofty expectations that could be unrealistic, maybe even impossible, to meet? “Wolf, you’ve been here almost an entire month. We thought you would have discovered two galaxies and a whole new solar system by now.”
Now in his senior year of high school, Wolf says he has narrowed his college search to Princeton, MIT and Stanford where he plans to major in physics or astrophysics. It’s for certain that elite universities have discovered Wolf Cukier as though he were a previously hidden large shiny planet.
My message to the bright young man is this: “Wolf, chill a little and enjoy these last months of your senior year in high school. There will be many scholarship offers to consider, which is why you need an agent to get you the best deal. Call me.”