Keele-Tom

Tom Wagg – Courtesy: Keele University website

Never underestimate or undermine the abilities of your colleagues or an intern for that matter. You never know what they are capable of doing during the early or in the latter stages of their careers. The officials of Keele University for sure will encourage upcoming astrophysicists after one of their teenage interns discovered a planet 1000 light years away from planet Earth.

Tom Wagg was doing his work experience at Keele University back in 2013 when he spotted the planet after observing a tiny dip in the light of a star. However, it took two years for the observatory to crunch the data and conduct further observations before coming to the conclusion that Tom’s discovery was a planet indeed. Many of us might rather claim he was lucky to discover a planet at the age of 15 but it isn’t as easy as finding a grain of wheat in a heap of rice.

How Tom discovered the planet?

Tom was going through the data collected by the WASP (Wide Angle Search for Planets) project which monitors millions of stars. The project analyses the dip in light from the star caused by orbiting planets.

“I’m hugely excited to have a found a new planet, and I’m very impressed that we can find them so far away. The WASP software was impressive, enabling me to search through hundreds of different stars, looking for ones that have a plan,” Tom is quoted as saying in a release by Keele University.

What the release states about the planet?

Courtesy: Keele University website

Courtesy: Keele University website

‘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 through interactions with another planet. Thus it is likely that Tom’s planet is not the only planet orbiting that star.”

Located in the Hydra constellation on the southern hemisphere, the planet is yet to be christened and has been given the catalogue number WASP-142b. The Astronomical Union has planned a contest to name extra-solar planets and Tom, who was a student at Newcastle-under-Lyme school, will be making his suggestion for the same.

What the future holds for Tom?

Having achieved 12 GCSE’s, all with A*, the 17-year-old plans to pursue physics at Keele University. Professor Coel Hellier, who leads the WASP project at Keele says, “Tom is keen to learn about science, so it was easy to train him to look for planets.”

Tom’s discovery will certainly make plethora of kids hang their heads in shame, including myself, who was busy playing at the age of 15. Children who nowadays are immersed in virtual gaming or their Smartphone’s should take cue from Tom and aim for areas beyond the sky and moons; literally!