Newly-discovered exoplanet twice the size of Earth could have water

12 January, 2019, 18:12 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center  Francis Reddy

However, since the planet has yet to be confirmed, it still holds the moniker TOI 18602, which stands for "TESS Object of Interest 18602".

The mission's sensitive cameras also captured 100 short-lived changes - majority likely stellar outbursts - in the same region of the sky.

"We know a lot about atmospheres of hot planets, but because it's very hard to find small planets that orbit farther from their stars and are therefore cooler, we haven't been able to learn much about these smaller, cooler planets", she said.

The brighter star is about half as massive and large as the Sun, while its companion is about one-third the Sun's mass and size.

It remains unclear whether the alien world is rocky like Earth or a gas-rich like Neptune.

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.

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Located 226 light-years away in the constellation Taurus, the newly-discovered planet orbits the fainter member of the K2-288 binary system. The star is a cool M-type dwarf star about one-fifth the size of our Sun.

K2-288Bb has a radius of about 1.9 times that of Earth, which places it in the so-called Fulton gap - a likely transition zone between rocky super-Earths and gaseous sub-Neptunes. But it is apparent its magnitude is rare among exoplanets. Unfortunately, the author's also point out the HD 21749b likely is not an ideal target for future atmospheric follow-ups with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The three planets discovered by TESS in its first three months of operation each have unique characteristics and orbits.

Finding planets isn't as easy as sending up a satellite though, it also requires some detective work by researchers back on Earth.

TESS launched in April 2018 and has been constantly monitoring the sky sector by sector looking for 'momentary dips' in the light of about 200,000 nearby stars.

But as the satellite only examines each sector for 27 days any planets with orbits longer than this time are hard to detect because as the plant comes back around the satellite may have already moved on to another sector. "When the full set of observations of more than 300 million stars and galaxies collected in the two-year prime mission are scrutinized by astronomers worldwide, TESS may well have discovered as many as 10,000 planets, in addition to hundreds of supernovae and other explosive stellar and extragalactic transients".

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

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