NASA has discovered a ‘super-Earth’ 137 light-years away in the habitable zone that could be a promising candidate for life.
The exoplanet, called TOI-715 b, is 1.5 times the size of Earth and orbits a small, reddish star that can radiate the right temperature for liquid water to form on its surface – a key ingredient for the support of life.
Astronomers now plan to analyze TOI-715 b’s properties and atmosphere to determine whether it may have a companion planet.
The 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 passing through since 2018 instruments such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which enable astronomers not only to discover new worlds but also to reveal some of their intrinsic features.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) was launched six years ago to observe these ‘transient’ planets, which orbit stars like our sun.
An international team of scientists led by the University of Birmingham used an array of ground-based telescopes to narrow down TOI-715 b’s location once TESS returned clues of its existence.
The team found that TOI-715 b has a much tighter orbit than Earth, meaning it crosses the face of its stars more often, completing one orbit every 19 days.
This is comparable to one ‘year’ by Earth’s standards.
NASA has discovered other super-Earths, but many are not habitable because they are either too hot for survival or completely covered in water
However, this also means that one side of the super-Earth is always facing its star.
The position can cause extreme temperature differences between the day and night sides and influence climate and weather.
The same system may also host a second, Earth-sized planet.
The researchers said that if they can confirm the second Earth-like planet within TOI-175 b’s orbit, it will be the smallest habitable zone 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 an atmosphere,” NASA said.
“Much will depend on the planet’s other characteristics, including how massive it is 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, denser and drier world, probably keeping its lower-profile atmosphere closer to the surface.’
Although the super-Earth’s findings are unique in many ways, exoplanets themselves are not uncommon, and NASA has discovered more than 5,000 of these planets and confirmed that there are probably more than a billion exoplanets in the Milky Way alone.
The first exoplanet was discovered more than three decades ago, giving astronomers hope that other planets could host life.
Not all super-Earths are candidates for life, with some hosting extreme temperatures while others may be completely covered in water or have active lava flows.
“We don’t know a lot about super-Earths because we don’t have one in our solar system,” said Chris Impey, a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona. Mashable.
But if one thing is certain, Renyu Hu, an exoplanet researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told the store: ‘They are very exciting planets indeed.’