NASA Discovers New Earth-Sized Planet

Using data from NASA’s TESS, or Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, scientists have discovered a rocky Earth-sized planet within the habitable zone of its star.

The planet, called TOI 700 e, is the fourth overall planet discovered in the TOI 700 system; the other planets are named TOI 700 b, c, and d. TOI 700 is a star the planets orbit around, with d and e in the habitable zone, an area that is just the right distance from a star for water to exist on a planet’s surface. The conditions in a habitable zone are neither too hot nor too cold for life, which is why some scientists refer to these areas as a “Goldilocks zone”.

“This is one of only a few systems with multiple, small, habitable-zone planets that we know of,” said Emily Gilbert, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California who led the work in identifying TOI 700 e. “That makes the TOI 700 system an exciting prospect for additional follow-up. Planet e is about 10% smaller than planet d, so the system also shows how additional TESS observations help us find smaller and smaller worlds.”

Gilbert also said that TOI 700 e takes 28 days to orbit its star, whereas d takes 37 days.

The TOI 700 system is 100 light-years away from Earth, which means it would take humans 1.6 million years to reach it. But the news is important in broadening our understanding of the universe and discovering new cosmic neighbors, a task TESS has been instrumental in.

According to NASA, TESS has created imaging for about 75% of the sky and found 66 new exoplanets, planets beyond our solar system. It has also pointed toward 2,100 exoplanet candidates that astronomers are working to identify. TESS’s original two-year mission allowed scientists to scan solar systems and monitor the brightness of stars for periodic drops caused by planets orbiting past them; the mission ended in 2020, but TESS expanded and was able to discover TOI 700 e through an additional year of observations.

“If the star was a little closer or the planet a little bigger, we might have been able to spot TOI 700 e in the first year of TESS data,” said Ben Hord, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “But the signal was so faint that we needed the additional year of transit observations to identify it.”


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