NASA's TESS Planet Hunting Satellite Discovers Third New Exoplanet

Cesar Mills
January 9, 2019

K2-288 is now the third transiting planet system identified through the Exoplanet Explorers program, a project where ordinary citizens can search Kepler's K2 observations to find new transiting planets.

HD 21749b completes one orbit of its host star, which is almost as bright as our sun, every 36 Earth days.

The "Super Earth" is among three new planets and six supernovae outside our solar system that have been observed by Nasa's planet-hunting Tess mission in its first three months.

"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", University of Chicago graduate student Adina Feinstein, the lead author of a paper on the discovery, said in a NASA news release.

This year, Kevin Hardegree-Ullman, postdoctoral scholar in astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, announced that the Spitzer space telescope followed up on that discovery and discovered a sixth planet, K2-138 g, smaller than Neptune, that orbits the star every 42 days.

"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 added.

Estimated to be about 1.9 times Earth's size, K2-288Bb is half the size of Neptune.

Researchers have focused on finding Earth-sized rocky planets with the right temperatures so that water, if any exists, would be liquid, a condition believed to be necessary for life. 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.

Experts still aren't sure whether the planet hosts life, but say if plants were transferred there, they would likely survive. Currently, the team is investigating a second planet in the system with a shorter 7.8-day orbit.

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Citizen scientists have discovered a potentially habitable exoplanet roughly twice the size of Earth, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Monday.

There might be yet another planet that's a bit smaller than Earth and orbits even closer to the star HD 21749, making a complete round every eight days.

Like NASA's recently departed Kepler space telescope, TESS watches for the faint dip in light that occurs when an unseen planet passes in front of a star's disk. "TESS found as many in its first month". "But we had this one transit, and knew something was there".

Each of the planets, which orbit a dwarf star just 39 million light years, likely holds water at its surface.

The inquisitive students made the finding by sifting through data collected by the Kepler Telescope, looking for evidence of transits, which is the regular dimming of a star when a planet moves across its face.

The newfound planet K2-288Bb, illustrated here, is slightly smaller than Neptune. "But we were lucky and we caught the signals, and they were really clear".

In total, Kepler has found around 5,000 unconfirmed "candidate" exoplanets, with a further 2,500 "confirmed" exoplanets that scientists have since shown to be real.

The pair were working as interns with Joshua Schlieder, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, at the time. "This is the most extreme system with this type of architecture", Huang says. More than a dozen universities, research institutes, and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

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