TESS Finds A New Planet In A Stellar Habitable Zone

09 January, 2019, 10:27 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • Weird 'Sub-Neptune' Exoplanet Discovered by NASA Space Telescope

The planet, as well as two other planets, was found by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, a satellite that has only been observing space for three months.

Of the planets yet discovered, HD 21749b has the longest orbital period around its star, taking 36 days to perform a transit.

TESS's other discoveries include a super-hot world, LHS 3844 b, that whirls around its star-a red dwarf only 15% the size of the Sun-every 11 hours.

The "Super Earth" is among three new planets and six supernovae outside our solar system that have been observed by Nasa's planet-hunting Tess mission in its first three months.

The new planet's surface reaches about 300℉, which, according to the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, is "relatively cool", considering the proximity to its star, which is nearly as bright as our Sun.

"We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars", Paul Hertz, the director of NASA's astrophysics division, said in March 2018.

It is three times bigger than Earth, which classes it as a Sub-Neptune exoplanet, but it is surprisingly 23 times its mass.

The newly identified planet dubbed K2-288Bb is twice the size of the Earth.

It could either be rocky like our home planet or gas-rich like Neptune.

"We think this planet wouldn't be as gaseous as Neptune or Uranus, which are mostly hydrogen and really puffy".


Experts still aren't sure whether the planet hosts life, but say if plants were transferred there, they would likely survive.

Serendipitously, the researchers have also detected evidence of a second planet, though not yet confirmed, in the same planetary system, with a shorter, 7.8-day orbit.

A timely reminder of that fact comes in the form of an all-new exoplanet discovery made by citizen scientists who dedicated their time to combing through Kepler's logs. "But we re-extracted the data and zoomed in to look more carefully, and found what looked like the end of a transit".

The satellite typically looks for "Earth-like" planets, meaning they are rocky and orbit within the that orbit within the habitable or "Goldilocks" zone of a star. Because TESS is programmed to look at a portion of the sky for only 27 days, any planets with a longer orbit are hard to identify. "But we had this one transit, and knew something was there".

Located 226 light-years away in the constellation Taurus, the planet lies in a stellar system known as K2-288, which contains a pair of dim, cool M-type stars separated by about 5.1 billion miles (8.2 billion kilometers) - roughly six times the distance between Saturn and the Sun.

"We've confirmed three planets so far, and there are so many more that are just waiting for telescope and people time to be confirmed", Dragomir said.

In 2017, Feinstein and Makennah Bristow, an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina Asheville, worked as interns with Joshua Schlieder, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "So it's going really well, and TESS is already helping us to learn about the diversity of these small planets".

Once TESS has completed its two-year monitoring of the entire sky, the science team has committed to delivering information on 50 small planets less than four times the size of Earth to the astronomy community for further follow-up, either with ground-based telescopes or the future James Webb Space Telescope.

Huang said several more planets have had their status confirmed, but she didn't provide specifics.

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