NASA Probe Discovers Third New Planet Outside Solar System

NASA's planet finder discovers weird new world and 6 six exploding stars

While NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is the newest space-based planet hunter, this new finding shows that more discoveries await scientists in Kepler data. And hundreds of additional potential finds are in the pipeline. Among planets that orbit close to their stars, there's a curious dearth of worlds between about 1.5 and two times Earth's size.

The newly described planet whizzes around its star on a stretched-out orbit once every 36 days, says Xu Chelsea Huang, a TESS scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge.

"It could be a water planet or have some other type of substantial atmosphere."
Why scientists are saying the new planet's surface is relatively cool is because its star is nearly as bright as our very own Sun, the team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston said. The announcement was made by scientists this week, and the new planet is called HD 21749b.

The find is detailed in a paper submitted to Astrophysical Journal Letters.

During its initial two-year mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will observe almost the entire sky, looking for transit-a phenomenon that occurs when a planet passes in front of its star, causing a dip in the star's brightness. Because TESS stares non-stop at one slice of the sky for 27 days, then moves to a neighbouring slice, it captures an unprecedented view of these exploding stars as they brighten and then dim.

TESS works better than team members had dared to dream, says George Ricker, a physicist at MIT and the mission's principal investigator.

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.

NASA believe they may have found a planet that could contain life.

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It is the third confirmed exoplanet sighted by TESS, with the first being Pi Mensae c, roughly twice Earth's size and visible to the unaided eye in constellation Mensa.

Huang said several more planets have had their status confirmed, but she didn't provide specifics. "But we re-extracted the data and zoomed in to look more carefully, and found what looked like the end of a transit".

There will be more opportunities for citizen scientists to help discover exoplanets.

"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.

"The only other mission that could really do this was the Kepler spacecraft and Kepler found five supernovae in four years of observation", he said during the AAS conference. "We don't know how that could form".

Researchers have been scouring the comprehensive data beamed back to Earth to determine if those dips represented planets passing in front of the stars. It lies within its host star's habitable zone, which means the planet may have liquid water on its surface.

"Re-orienting Kepler relative to the Sun caused miniscule changes in the shape of the telescope and the temperature of the electronics, which inevitably affected Kepler's sensitive measurements in the first days of each campaign", said co-author Geert Barentsen, an astrophysicist at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley and the director of the guest observer office for the Kepler and K2 missions.

If anything, TESS' legacy could be even longer-lived than Kepler's.

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