Published: Tue, January 07, 2020
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

TESS Mission Discovers an Earth Size Habitable Planet

TESS Mission Discovers an Earth Size Habitable Planet

Astronomers report that NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, has detected its first Earth-sized planet lying in its parent star's habitable zone, plus its first planet orbiting two stars.

Researchers found that the innermost rocky planet, TOI 700 b, is nearly the size of the Earth and completed an orbit around its host star in mere 10 days.

Now, researchers using NASA's TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) and the Spitzer Space Telescope have confirmed the presence of a nearby planet called TOI 700 d. TESS was launched in 2018 and is created to survey 200,000 of the brightest stars in our celestial neighborhood for signs of orbiting planets.

Unlike the nearby planets inhabiting our solar system, scientists are not able to study exoplanets around other stars by observing them directly.

The Spitzer data increased scientists' confidence that TOI 700 d is a real planet and sharpened their measurements of its orbital period by 56% and its size by 38%. Confirming the size of the planet and the state of the habitable zone with Spitzer is another victory for Spitzer as the end of scientific operations approaches in January.

The scientists determined that TOI 700 is a small, cold M dwarf star (also known as a red dwarf) located more than 100 light years away in the southern Golden constellation, according to JPL. It boasts 40 percent the mass and size of our sun, with roughly half the Sun's surface temperature. And because TOI 700 d is blocked by tides to its star, the cloud formations and wind patterns of the planet can be remarkably different from those on Earth.

TOI 1338 b is the only known planet in the system.

NASA believes that the planets are all tidally locked, which means they rotate once per orbit meaning one side of the surface is in constant sunlight.

The nearest planet to the star is nearly exactly the same size of the Earth, according to JPL, and completes its orbit every ten days. "Additionally, in 11 months of data we saw no flares from the star, which improves the chances TOI 700 d is habitable and makes it easier to model its atmospheric and surface conditions".

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The details of the new method were published in the journal Nature Astronomy and presented at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu.

But planets orbiting two stars are more hard to detect than those orbiting one.

TOI 700 d is only one suited for human habitation. Scientists continue to debate over what poses the greater threat to humanity - World War III, global warming, or overpopulation - but most agree that the planet's demise is inevitable.

TOI 700 d's star TOI 700, the star at the centre of this planetary system, was originally classified as being the same as the Sun.

Aside from TOI 700 d, TESS discovered other planets circling TOI 700: TOI 700 b, which is "almost exactly Earth-size", is likely rocky and orbits the star every 10 days; and TOI 700 c, which is 2.6 times larger than Earth, orbits the star ever 16 days and is "likely a gas-dominated world".

"Before our work, oxygen at similar levels as on Earth was thought to be undetectable with Webb", says Thomas Fauchez of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and lead author of the study.

Dr. Schwieterman said: oxígeno Oxygen is one of the most exciting molecules to detect because of its link to life, but we don't know if life is the only cause of oxygen in an atmosphere.

Some researchers propose, however, that oxygen can accumulate in a planet's atmosphere without any life activity. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA's Ames Research Centre in California's Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT's Lincoln Laboratory; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre.

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