Monday, 18 March, 2019

NASA Astronomers Discover Planet Twice The Size Of Earth

NASA's planet finder discovers weird new world and 6 six exploding stars Newly Discovered K2-288Bb Planet Lies Within Habitable Zone And May Have Liquid Water On Its Surface
Frank Williams | 09 January, 2019, 18:21

The new world is located 226 light-years away in the constellation Taurus and lies in a stellar system called K2-288.

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

NASA has announced that TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) has discovered a third "small" planet outside our solar system.

Estimated to be about 1.9 times Earth's size, K2-288Bb is half the size of Neptune. It is also a whopping 23 times as massive as Earth.

"It's the coolest small planet that we know of around a star this bright", said Diana Dragomir, a postdoc in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the USA, who led the discovery. This is likely the result of intense starlight breaking up atmospheric molecules and eroding away the atmospheres of some planets over time, leaving behind two populations.

"This star was already known to host a planet, called Pi Mensae b, which is about 10 times the mass of Jupiter and follows a long and very eccentric orbit", said Chelsea Huang, a Juan Carlos Torres Fellow at the MIT Kavli Institute.

The surface of HD 21749b is likely around 150 degrees Celsius, however, the surface is relatively cool given its proximity to its star, according to an IANS report.

On the bright side, there is evidence of a second, still unconfirmed planet in the same system, this one with a much shorter 7.8-day orbit.

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George Ricker, the mission's principal investigator at MIT, predicted that there will be many more discoveries to come as the team is "only halfway through Tess's first year of operations and the data floodgates are just beginning to open". To put it in context, Michael Fausnaugh, a pipeline scientist on TESS, discussed this in comparison to NASA's now defunct Kepler telescope.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite launched in April to take up the planet-hunting baton from the Kepler space telescope as that historic mission ended. Bright stars allow for easier followup study through ground- and space-based telescopes. Over the course of two years, the four wide-field cameras on board will stare at different sectors of the sky for days at a time.

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

As far as what the planet may be like, the jury is still out. Indeed, HD 21749b is very far-flung for TESS; two other smallish worlds found by the mission have orbital periods of 11 hours and 6.3 days, respectively.

TESS looks for new planets by examining the light from about 200,000 stars and detecting any noticeable changes in brightness. "But here we were lucky, and caught this one, and can now study it in more detail", Dragomir said.

As it turned out, the team was not utilizing all of the spacecraft's data.

Its size is unusual for an exoplanet (the term for a planet that orbits a star outside our solar system). They determined that they should be able to find the signal again, in TESS's "sector 3" data - which they succeeded in doing.

Past year at the American Astronomical Society meeting, it was announced that citizen scientists helped discover five planets between the size of Earth and Neptune around star K2-138, the first multiplanet system found through crowdsourcing.

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