NASA’s TESS discovers buzzing cosmic neighborhood with two super-Earths

Here is your friendly reminder that our solar system is just a water molecule in the ocean of the universe.

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey, better known as TESS, has spotted a buzzing galactic neighborhood just 33 light-years from our planet. It has a central star, a few planets surrounding that star, and according to the scientists behind this alternate reality discovery, there are at least two Earth-sized terrestrial worlds in the pack.

If you could travel at one-tenth the speed of light, you would need something like 330 years to get to that solar system-like place in the galaxy. Obviously, this is not possible, for several reasons.

But using special terrestrial equipment like telescopes and space spectrometers — maybe even James Webb Space Telescope once it’s up and running – we can paint a pretty clear picture of what this neighborhood looks like.

With that in mind, researchers are presenting full details of this multiplanetary system at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Pasadena, Calif., on Wednesday so that the astronomy community can pre-select these new exoplanets for important studies. the exoplanets.

And they have already provided an overview of their findings, in a Press release from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

What we do know so far is that the system’s host star is dubbed HD 260655 and is relatively small, cool, and classified as an M dwarf. M dwarfs are significantly less massive than our sun, a G-type main sequence starbut are 10 times more many throughout the universe.


This test image from one of four cameras aboard the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) captures a swath of the southern sky along the plane of our galaxy.


The inner planet orbits its star every 2.8 Earth days and is about 1.2 times the size of Earth and twice as massive. The alien other world rotates every 5.7 Earth days and is 1.5 times larger than Earth and three times as massive. They are both considered “rocky”.

Say hello to your exoplanet neighbors next door

“The two planets in this system are each considered among the best targets for atmospheric study due to their star’s brightness,” said Michelle Kunimoto of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. a lead scientist in the discovery, in a statement.

This includes studies that aim to answer questions such as “Is there a volatile-rich atmosphere around these planets? And are there signs of water- or carbon-based species? ?” Kunimoto said — in other words, a protective layer like the Earth’s ozone layer, and living things like… humans. “These planets are fantastic test beds for these explorations.”

OK, but before you get too excited, the team pointed out that the newly unveiled rocky worlds probably aren’t habitable – they’re walking really (really) close to their host star, so they’re probably too hot to host space. ‘water. The inner planet, according to the study, roasts at around 818 degrees Fahrenheit, and the other has a mild temperature of 548 degrees Fahrenheit.


This illustration shows what some exoplanets might look like — not necessarily the two discussed in this new study.


“We consider this beach outside the habitable zone,” Kunimoto said.

Yet these worlds could prove invaluable to the global quest to find habitable exoplanets. In short, they could inform how scientists conduct future studies that could encounter planets that are in the living area.

How to find an exoplanet

NASA’s TESS regularly discovers exoplanets across the universe since its launch in 2018, having already referenced a incredible number of these alien worlds.

It basically works by detecting periodic dips in the luminescence of stars around the universe, because such variations in light could signal that a planet is passing in front of those stars. Imagine looking at a lamp and then seeing a person walking near the lamp to block your view. If you were really far from the lamp, you might not be able to tell exactly who blocked your view, but you could deduce that somebody done, because the light definitely fell for a second.

It’s a bit like that.


An illustration of TESS.


So, in October 2021, Kunimoto found one of these dips while monitoring incoming data from the satellite. They came from the star, HD 260655. After many other tests, one of which is a well-known gravitational oscillation test which examines whether light dips are accompanied by some sort of gravitational pull on the star itself, the researchers concluded that, yes, there are two planets orbiting the star within reach.

“We knew we had something very exciting,” MIT’s Avi Shporer, a member of the discovery team, said in a statement.

“But there could be more planets in the system,” Shporer added. “There are many multiplanetary systems hosting five or six planets, especially around small stars like this. Hopefully we’ll find more.” And if the team finds more, “maybe there’s one in the living area.

“That’s optimistic thinking.”

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