A NASA mission has discovered a second habitable Earth orbiting a nearby star
A NASA mission has spotted an Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting a small star about 100 light-years away.
The planet, called TOI 700 e, is probably rocky and 95% as massive as our world. The celestial body is the fourth planet detected orbiting the small, cool dwarf star M TOI 700. All exoplanets were discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS mission.
Another planet in the system, discovered in 2020 and called TOI 700 d, is also the same size as Earth. Both of these exoplanets are in their star’s habitable zone, or at just the right distance from their star where liquid water is possible on their surface. The potential for liquid water suggests that the planets themselves are or could be habitable.
The discovery of the fourth planet was announced Tuesday at the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, and the exoplanet study has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“This is one of the few systems that we know of that has multiple habitable small planets,” said study leader Emily Gilbert, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. , in a press release.
“This makes the TOI 700 system an interesting prospect for further monitoring. Planet E is about 10% smaller than Planet D, so the system shows how additional TESS observations could help us find smaller and smaller worlds. .”
Small, cool M dwarf stars like TOI 700 are common in the universe, and many have been found to host exoplanets in recent years, such as the TRAPPIST-1 system and its seven exoplanets observed by the James Webb Space Telescope.
The closest to the star is TOI 700 b, which is 90% the size of Earth and orbits the star rapidly every 10 Earth days. Then there is TOI 700 c, which is 2.5 times the size of our planet and orbits the star every 16 days. Both of these planets can be in tidal lock, meaning that they always point to the same side of the star – just as one side of the moon always faces Earth.
The two exoplanets in the star’s habitable zone, planets d and e, have longer orbits of 37 and 28 days, respectively, because they are further away from the star. The newly announced planet e is actually between planets c and d.
Launched in 2018, the TESS mission will observe large swathes of the night sky for 27 days at a time, looking at the brightest stars and tracking their changes in brightness. This dip in brightness indicates orbiting planets passing in front of stars, known as transits. The mission began observing the southern sky in 2018, then turned to the northern sky. In 2020, the mission discovered the fourth planet in the TOI 700 system and again turned its attention to the southern sky for additional observations.
“If the star were a little closer or the planet a little bigger, we could have observed TOI 700 in the first year of TESS data,” said study author Ben Hord, Ph.D. Maryland. Park and graduate student researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. “But the signal was so weak that we needed additional transit observations to detect it.”
As researchers use other space-based and ground-based observatories to observe interesting planetary systems, more TESS data is coming in.
“TESS has completed its second year of observing the northern sky,” said Allison Youngblood, research astrophysicist and assistant project scientist for TESS at Goddard. “We look forward to other exciting discoveries hidden in the mission’s database.”
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