NASA Exoplanet Hunter Racks Up Bizarre Worlds and Exploding Stars

Pablo Tucker
January 9, 2019

NASA's new 'planet hunter, ' set to be Kepler's successor, is equipped with four cameras that will allow it to view 85 per cent of the entire sky, as it searches exoplanets orbiting stars less than 300 light-years away.

Compared to TESS's other two sightings-Pi Mensae b, a "super-Earth" with a 6.3-day orbit, and LHS 3844b, a rocky world that speeds around its star in 11 hours-HD 21749b is downright lazy, taking 36 days to complete one rotation. But scientists require a third transit before claiming the discovery of a candidate planet, and there wasn't a third signal in the observations they reviewed. "If confirmed, it will be the smallest planet we have found to date", study co-author Chelsea Huang, a colleague of Dragomir's at the MIT Kavli Institute, said today during a briefing at the American Astronomical Society's winter meeting in Seattle.

The "sub-Neptune" planet is about three times Earth's size, but 23 times its mass.

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

Scientists don't think that the planet is rocky, they believe that it is most likely made of gas of the sort that is much denser than the atmosphere of Neptune or Uranus, it's not believed to be habitable.

The discoveries of a new planet and several supernovae are exciting enough and what's to come should give us even more information about the phenomena already discovered. She is also the lead author of a paper describing the new planet accepted for publication by The Astronomical Journal.

The boffins have also detected evidence of a second planet, though not yet confirmed, in the same planetary system, with a shorter, 7.8-day orbit, according to the IANS report.

Tess monitors sections of the sky and waits for momentary dips in the light of about 200,000 nearby stars, likely to be a sign that a planet has passed in front of that star.

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) recorded more than 100 short-lived changes - a lot of them likely stellar outbursts of various types - in its first observing sector.

The discovery is unique for a number of reasons - not least of which is that it was made by amateur astronomers - but the biggest surprise for scientists was its size. 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.

'TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds whose properties can be probed by NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and other missions'.

Its size is unusual for an exoplanet (the term for a planet that orbits a star outside our solar system). NASA's Kepler space telescope which shut operations in October 2018, was the one to make these findings.

TESS's four cameras, designed and built by MKI and MIT's Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts, spend almost a month monitoring each observing sector, a single swath of the sky measuring 24 by 96 degrees.

By studying objects much brighter than the Kepler targets, it's hoped TESS could uncover new clues on the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. "TESS found as many in its first month".

Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT's Lincoln Laboratory; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

Astronomers are now conducting follow-up observations on more than 280 exoplanet candidates.

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