Saturday, 15 June, 2019


Rare exoplanet discovered 226 light-years away from Earth

NASA  Goddard NASA Goddard
Kristine Garrett | 09 January, 2019, 18:24

Since Kepler is no longer hunting for planets, NASA is now hoping that a new space telescope will aid in the search: the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

The new exoplanet, named HD 21749b, was discovered by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which launched in April. Citizen scientists using data from NASA's Kepler space telescope, discovered a planet roughly twice the size of Earth located within its star's habitable zone, the range of orbital distances where liquid water may exist on the planet's surface.

"It's a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon", said Adina Feinstein, University of Chicago graduate student and lead author of the paper on the discovery, published by the Astronomical Journal.

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. "But here we were lucky, and caught this one, and can now study it in more detail", Dragomir said.

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

Kepler has discovered more than 2,600 confirmed planets, out of which 50 are of the same size and temperature as the Earth.

However, it is unlikely that the planet is rocky and therefore habitable; it's more likely made of gas, of a kind that is much more dense than the atmospheres of either Neptune or Uranus.

Currently, the team is investigating a second planet in the system with a shorter 7.8-day orbit. If the light "dips", momentarily decreasing in brightness, it suggests that a planet may be orbiting the star.

Those researchers had also detected a signal, but they couldn't conclusively attribute it to a planet, Dragomir said. His team is now writing a proposal to NASA asking that TESS's mission be extended past its initial two years.

The discovery, discussed at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and in pre-print at arXiv, is just one of several now coming thick and fast for TESS. Every six days, the new planet orbits the star Pi Mensae, located about 60 light-years away and visible to the unaided eye in the southern constellation Mensa.

"Some of the most interesting science occurs in the early days of a supernova, which has been very hard to observe before TESS", said Michael Fausnaugh, a TESS researcher at the MIT Kavli Institute. Observing just one sector of the sky once it began science operations, researchers announced at AAS that TESS has already identified six supernovae - a remarkable finding.

NASA's Kepler space telescope is dead.

A different group of astronomers had studied the HD 21749 system a decade ago using HARPS, which finds planets by noticing the tiny wobbles that their gravitational tugs induce in their host stars.

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.

The pair were working as interns with Joshua Schlieder, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, at the time.

Follow-up observations were made with multiple telescopes to confirm the exoplanet.

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