NASA has discovered a ‘super-Earth’ 137 light-years away in the habitable zone that could be a promising candidate for life.
Called TOI-715 b, the exoplanet is 1.5 times larger than Earth and orbits a small reddish star that could emit the right temperature for liquid water to form on the surface, a key ingredient for supporting life.
Astronomers now plan to analyze the properties of TOI-715 b and atmospheres to determine if a companion planet is possible.
Super Earth is located 137 light years from Earth and completes one orbit every 19 days.
Exoplanets are worlds located outside our solar system and have been studied since 2018 by instruments such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which allow astronomers not only to discover new worlds but also to reveal some of their intrinsic characteristics.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) was launched six years ago to observe these “transiting” planets, which orbit stars like our sun.
An international team of scientists led by the University of Birmingham used a series of ground-based telescopes to narrow down the location of TOI-715 b once TESS sent back clues of its existence.
The team discovered that TOI-715 b has a much narrower orbit than Earth, meaning it crosses the face of its stars more frequently and completes an orbit every 19 days.
This is comparable to a “year” by Earth standards.
NASA has discovered other super Earths, but many are not habitable because they are too hot to survive or are completely covered in water.
However, that also means that one side of the super-Earth always faces its star.
The position could cause extreme temperature differences between the day and night sides and affect the climate and weather.
The same system could also host a second Earth-sized planet.
The researchers said that if they can confirm the second Earth-like planet within the orbit of TOI-175 b, it would be the smallest habitable planet discovered by TESS to date.
“Planet TOI-175 b joins the list of habitable zone planets that could be examined more closely by the Webb telescope, perhaps even for signs of atmosphere,” NASA said.
“Much will depend on other properties of the planet, including its mass and whether it can be classified as a ‘water world,’ making its atmosphere, if present, more prominent and much less difficult to detect than that of a more massive planet.” . “A denser, drier world, which will likely keep its lower-profile atmosphere closer to the surface.”
Although the super-Earth findings are unique in many ways, exoplanets themselves are not unusual, and NASA has discovered more than 5,000 such planets and confirmed that there are probably more than a trillion exoplanets in the Milky Way alone.
The first exoplanet was discovered more than three decades ago and gives astronomers hope that other planets could support life.
Not all super-Earths are candidates for life: some host extreme temperatures, while others could be completely covered in water or have active lava flows.
“We don’t know much about super-Earths because we don’t have any in our solar system,” said Chris Impey, an astronomy professor at the University of Arizona. Mashable.
But if one thing is for sure, Renyu Hu, an exoplanet researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the outlet: “They are indeed very interesting planets.”