NASA's planet-hunting telescope is making landmark discoveries at an astonishing pace and has now confirmed discovery of a third new planet and a handful of exploding stars in our "cosmic backyard".
The other two planets it has discovered are Pi Mensae c, a super-Earth that zips around its star in 6.3 days, and LHS 3844b, a rocky planet that flies around its planet in a whopping 11-hour orbit. All three planets were discovered in the first three months of TESS observations. At a cool 300 degrees Fahrenheit (~149 degrees Celsius), it's also "relatively cool" for a planet orbiting so close to its star.
"It's the coolest small planet that we know of around a star this bright", said lead researcher Diana Dragomir, a post-doctoral student at the MIT.
"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.
The newly identified planet dubbed K2-288Bb is twice the size of the Earth. But HD 21749b is made of denser stuff than the gaseous worlds we're used to, because it's 23 times more massive than Earth. The planet, located in the Taurus constellation, is about half the size of Neptune and could be gas-rich or it could be rocky, according to NASA. Data gathered during the course of its scientific mission, however, paved way to the discovery of a new exoplanet.
HD 21749b completes one orbit of its host star, which is almost as bright as our sun, every 36 Earth days. "The planet likely has a density of water, or a thick atmosphere", Dragomir said.
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Researchers have also detected evidence of a second planet, with a shorter, 7.8-day orbitin the same planetary system, though it is yet to be confirmed. If it is confirmed as a planet, it could be the first Earth-sized planet discovered by TESS. They have also submitted their discovery paper to Astrophysical Journal Letters. That's actually quite cool, considering how close the planet is to its star.
NASA's TESS mission, which will survey virtually the entire sky over its two-year prime mission, has already discovered three relatively small exoplanets around nearby stars. The satellite will spend the first year surveying the sky in the Southern Hemisphere, before swiveling around to take in the Northern Hemisphere sky. Every three months, Kepler would stare at a differentpatch of sky. For their new analysis, the researchers looked through this data, collected between July 25 and October 14. Because TESS is programmed to look at a portion of the sky for only 27 days, any planets with a longer orbit are hard to identify.
Its size is unusual for an exoplanet (the term for a planet that orbits a star outside our solar system). They had noticed the same system and its two transits. "But we had this one transit, and knew something was there".
It turned out that they did not analyze all of the data. "But we re-extracted the data and zoomed in to look more carefully, and found what looked like the end of a transit".
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. "But we were lucky and we caught the signals, and they were really clear". "NASA's Kepler space telescope caught five of these events as they brightened during its first four years of operations".
The discoveries of a new planet and several supernovae are exciting enough and what's to come should give us even more information about the phenomena already discovered.
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