Teenager on work experience at Keele University discovers new planet 1,000 light years away from Earth

Finding took two years to verify and the boy is thought to be the youngest person, ever, to make such a discovery

Aftab Ali
Thursday 11 June 2015 18:03 BST
An artist's impression of Tom's planet orbiting its star
An artist's impression of Tom's planet orbiting its star (David A. Hardy)

A 15-year-old boy has found what astronomers, the world over, only began to find 20 years ago – a new planet, far from our own solar system – while on work experience.

Tom Wagg was at Keele University, in Staffordshire, studying data of stars in the Milky Way collected by cameras in South Africa when he spotted the new planet.

He noticed a tiny dip in the light of a star as another planet passed in front of it which can be a tell-tale sign of a new planet.

Now, after two years of further inspection, staff at the university have finally confirmed that Tom, did indeed, find a new planet and that it is 1,000 light years away from Earth

Having been given the catalogue number ‘WASP-142b’, the planet is now the 142nd one to be discovered through the successful project known as WASP.

WASP (Wide Angle Search for Planets) surveys the night skies – monitoring millions of stars – and is designed to look for the tell-tale tiny dips caused by planets passing in front of their host star.

Tom, now 17, said: “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 Wagg at the Keele Observatory

A pupil at Newcastle-under-Lyme School, Tom has always been keen on science and asked for a work-experience week after learning that Keele University had a research group studying extra-solar planets.

Leader of the WASP project at Keele, Professor Coel Hellier, said it was easy to train Tom to look for planets as he was already very interested in science.

The planet is one of a class of ‘hot Jupiter’ planets which – unlike the planets in our own solar system – have very tight orbits close to their stars.

They are thought to have migrated inwards by ‘interacting’ with another planet and astronomers are now hopeful that Tom’s planet is not the only one to be orbiting that star.

Thought to be the youngest person, ever, to find a planet, Tom has since achieved 12 GCSEs – all at A* – and, not only hopes to officially name his discovery, but also wants to study physics at university.

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