Thursday, 24 January, 2019

TESS Finds A New Planet In A Stellar Habitable Zone

NASA
K2-288Bb NASA K2-288Bb
Sandra Phillips | 09 January, 2019, 10:26

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". Those planets tear around their stars much more quickly than HD 21749b, completing orbits at 6.3 days and a meagre 11 hours. Citizen scientists using data from NASA's Kepler space telescope, discovered a planet roughly twice the size of Earth located within its star's habitable zone, the range of orbital distances where liquid water may exist on the planet's surface.

The new planet's surface reaches about 300℉, which, according to the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, is "relatively cool", considering the proximity to its star, which is nearly as bright as our Sun.

"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 continued.

Calling the planet small is a bit misleading, the team says that HD 21749b is about three times the size of Earth placing it into the sub-Neptune category. But it is unlikely that the planet is rocky and therefore habitable; it's more likely made of gas, of a kind that is much more dense than the atmospheres of either Neptune or Uranus.

"We think this planet wouldn't be as gaseous as Neptune or Uranus, which are mostly hydrogen and really puffy".

"It could be a water planet or have some other type of substantial atmosphere."
Currently, the team is investigating a second planet in the system with a shorter 7.8-day orbit.

"It's a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon", said Feinstein, who presented the discovery at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle on Monday, Jan. 7.

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When a planet passes in front of a star as viewed from Earth, the event is called a "transit".

The newfound planet K2-288Bb, illustrated here, is slightly smaller than Neptune. The satellite will spend the first year surveying the sky in the Southern Hemisphere, before swiveling around to take in the Northern Hemisphere sky. Possible planets can be spotted by studying dips in light when the planet moves before its star. The exoplanet lies in the stellar system K2-288, which has two dim, cool stars.

NASA astrophysicist Geert Barents said the Sun affected the craft which hampered the first days of its mission - possibly dampening its ability to locate new planets. "But we had this one transit, and knew something was there".

It turned out that they did not analyze all of the data.

"We've confirmed three planets so far, and there are so many more that are just waiting for telescope and people time to be confirmed", Dragomir said. "TESS found as many in its first month". "But we were lucky and we caught the signals, and they were really clear".

The Trappist-1 star system, which hosts a record seven Earth-like planets, was one of the biggest discoveries of 2017.

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. The findings from TESS are meant to provide a guide for more detailed observations by space telescopes yet to be built, including the European Space Agency's CHEOPS planet-hunting probe and NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.

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