NASA probe discovers new planet

09 January, 2019, 10:25 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • The newfound planet K2-288Bb illustrated here is slightly smaller than Neptune

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.

HD 21749b appears to have the longest orbital period of the three planets so far identified by Tess.

The scientists announced the results at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle. The planet has an orbit of 36 days and a surface temperature of about 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It's the coolest small planet that we know of around a star this bright", lead researcher Diana Dragomir, a post-doctoral student at the MIT, said.

"We think of TESS as an exoplanet-hunter, but in addition TESS is very effective at finding many other types of objects", said Dr. George Ricker, principal investigator with the TESS mission.

Kepler-452b, dubbed "Earth 2.0", shares many characteristics with our planet despite sitting 1,400 light years away.

"It's the coolest planet we know of around a star this bright".

The new world, known as K2-288Bb, could be rocky or could be a gas-rich planet similar to Neptune.

There is also evidence that a second planet could exist in this system with a 7.8-day orbit - which could be the first Earth-size planet dicovered by TESS.

The Kepler telescope was launched by NASA specifically to discover Earth-sized worlds since it was launched into space in 2009.

NASA’s exoplanet hunter the Kepler space telescope leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 exoplanet discoveries
NASA’s exoplanet hunter the Kepler space telescope leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 exoplanet discoveries

The exoplanet, known as K2-288Bb, is about twice the size of Earth and orbits within the habitable zone of its star, meaning liquid water may exist on its surface.

She and her colleagues compared the pattern to the first full transit they had originally discovered, and found a near flawless match - an indication that the planet passed again in front of its star, in a 36-day orbit.

Experts compared the system to the famous "double-sunset" pictured on Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine in "Star Wars: A New Hope". The exoplanet lies in the stellar system K2-288, which has two dim, cool stars.

The new planet discovered by astronomers orbits this smaller star, completing one cycle every 313.3 days.

So the reprocessed, "cleaned-up" light curves were uploaded through the Exoplanet Explorers project on online platform Zooniverse, and the public was invited to "go forth and find us planets", Feinstein said.

Tess has also detected dozens of short-lived events, including images of six supernovae in distant galaxies that were later seen by ground-based telescopes. To put it in context, Michael Fausnaugh, a pipeline scientist on TESS, discussed this in comparison to NASA's now defunct Kepler telescope. "But we re-extracted the data and zoomed in to look more carefully, and found what looked like the end of a transit". So far, it's right on schedule: About a quarter of the sky has been photographed, eight months after its launch and six months after it began its two-year primary science mission.

TESS is in the process of scanning the entire southern sky, after which it will turn and canvass the northern sky.

Tess monitors sections of the sky and waits for momentary dips in the light of about 200,000 nearby stars - a sign that a planet has passed in front of that star. Bright stars allow for easier followup study through ground- and space-based telescopes.

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

The pair were working as interns with Joshua Schlieder, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, at the time. That telescope, launching in 2021, would be able to characterize the details and atmospheres of exoplanets in ways scientists have not been able to do.

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