Saturday, 21 September, 2019

Astronomers uncover three new exoplanets 73 light years away

Astronomers discover young exoplanet ‘Formation of planets’ revealed by new space discovery
Sandy Nunez | 30 July, 2019, 14:59

Scientists believe the planet is rocky, about a third larger and at most around 8 times as massive as Earth. The other two are icy "sub-Neptunes" that are about half the size of Neptune.

The sub-Neptune farthest out from the star seems, by all accounts, to be inside a temperate zone, implying that the highest point of planet's atmosphere is inside a temperature extend that could support a few types of life. It is thought that the furthest planet in the group may feature a temperature range which can support the existence of life.

Kane said, "We've found very few planets like this in the habitable zone, and many fewer around a quiet star, so this is rare". Besides, the new exoplanet could have an atmosphere which keeps scientists charged up for taking a closer look.

While it takes pictures of the comets, supernovae, and stellar flares it sees along the way, TESS's main objective is to observe star brightness within that small chunk of the sky, looking for telltale periodic dimming that could suggest there's a planet orbiting around it. Researchers hope that TESS will monitor 85 percent of the sky over its two-year mission. Exoplanets orbit a sun other than our own, and we've only recently started seeing them.

"This system is exactly what TESS was created to find - small, temperate planets that pass, or transit, in front of an inactive host star, one lacking excessive stellar activity, such as flares", said lead researcher Maximilian Günther, a Torres Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in Cambridge. Each half of the sky (the northern half and the southern half) has 13 patches. The reason TESS is focusing on stars within 300 light-years is to allow followup with ground-based telescopes for further study.

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The innermost planet, TOI-270b, is the super-Earth, while the others - TOI-270c and TOI-270d - are the Sub-Neptunes. That means rocky super-Earth isn't much smaller than its neighbors, unlike in our own solar system.

Two of the newly-found planets are of a gaseous type not found in our own solar system, roughly twice Earth's size, and one is rocky and slightly larger than Earth - and in the habitable zone, meaning that it is warm enough to allow for liquid oceans.

The new worlds also exhibit a unique mathematical quality that researchers don't fully understand yet. The sub-Neptunes, planets c and d, complete orbits of the star every five and 11 days, respectively.

"These planets line up like pearls on a string", Günther said. "That's a very interesting thing, because it lets us study their dynamical behavior".

The TOI-270 star is ideal for studying these planets' properties because it's relatively close to Earth and therefore bright. Temperatures given for TOI 270 planets are equilibrium temperatures, calculated without the warming effects of any possible atmospheres. With Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope due to be launched in 2021, astronomers are already making a list of targets they'd like it to study.