Planet spotting with TESS
NASA’s planet-hunting satellite has had a productive first year in space, reports The New York Times. Since going into operation last summer, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has spotted 21 new planets and 850 more possible worlds—all within a few dozen light-years of our solar system. Among the most exciting discoveries in the search for habitable worlds are three new planets that orbit a red dwarf around 73 light-years away. These exoplanets are among the smallest and closest ever discovered outside our solar system: One is a “Super Earth,” a little larger than our own planet; the others are “sub-Neptunes” that are about twice as big. One of the sub-Neptunes sits in its star’s so-called habitable zone—where temperatures are just right to allow liquid water to exist on the world’s surface. But further investigation revealed that the planet has a dense atmosphere, trapping extreme levels of heat. Still, scientists think the star system might contain other worlds better suited to life. “Chances are good that we will find more planets further out in the habitable zone,” says Maximilian Guenther, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Meredith Rizzo/NPR/Redux, Reuters, NASA ■