NASA discovers 3 new planets; 1 potentially habitable ‘super Earth’

Pablo Tucker
August 1, 2019

The NASA Transit Exoplanets Survey Satellite discovered three possible new planets, in which a star 40 percent smaller than the Sun orbits 73 light-years from it.

"This system is exactly what TESS was created to find - small, temperate planets that pass or transit, in front of an inactive host star, one lacking excessive stellar activity, such as flares", lead researcher Maximilian Gunther of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in a statement. "This star is quiet and really close to us, and therefore a lot brighter than the host stars of comparable programs". It's only 22 percent larger than Earth and circles its star every 3.9 days - tracing an orbit that's 11 times closer to its star than Mercury's is to our sun. Studying Earth's near neighbors could help scientists understand how planets of intermediate diameter form-and the newly uncovered system, named TESS Object of Interest (TOI) 270, might just be the ideal laboratory for the job, study author Maximilian Günther of MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research said in a statement.

The implications: These planets could help us understand the "missing link" between how small, rocky plants like Earth and huge, icy worlds like Neptune are formed, according to Maximilian Günther, a postdoc at MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, the lead author of the paper.

"We don't have a planet quite like this in our solar system", he continued.

Compare and contrast worlds in the TOI 270 system with these illustrations of each planet. The three known planets were discovered by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite through periodic dips in starlight caused by each orbiting world.

The scientists noted that the conditions within these planets vary depending on their distance from TOI 270. "With a thick atmosphere, the planet GJ 357 d could maintain liquid water on its surface like Earth, and we could pick out signs of life with telescopes that will soon be online", she said.

The new star system, called TESS Object of Interest, or TOI-270, is exactly what the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, was created to find, said researchers from the University of California, Riverside in the US.

The other planet in the system, GJ 357 c, is at least 3.4 times more massive than Earth and orbits the star every 9.1 days. This puzzling size gap persists in other parts of the known universe, too: data beamed back from Kepler, TESS' predecessor satellite, showed there are very few exoplanets with a diameter that's between 1.5 and 2 times Earth's.

Though it's pretty unlikely that any of these new planets are fit for habitation, the discovery does more than fill a medium-sized hole in the hearts of exoplanet hunters. Scientists hope that observations of the planets will determine the process formirovaniya such "mini-Neptune".

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