Nav: Home

NASA's TESS mission finds 'missing link' planets

July 29, 2019

NASA's newest planet-hunting satellite has discovered a type of planet missing from our own solar system.

Launched in 2018, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, has found three new worlds around a neighboring star. Stephen Kane, a UC Riverside associate professor of planetary astrophysics, says the new star system, called TESS Object of Interest, or TOI-270, is exactly what the satellite was designed to find.

A paper describing TOI-270 has been published in the journal Nature Astronomy and is now available online. Of the three new exoplanets, meaning they're outside our solar system, one is rocky and slightly larger than Earth, while the two others are gaseous and roughly twice Earth's size.

Not only is the smaller planet in the habitable zone -- the range of distances from a star that are warm enough to allow liquid-water oceans on a planet -- but the TOI-270 star is nearby, making it brighter for viewing. It's also "quiet," meaning it has few flares and allows scientists to observe it and its orbiting planets more easily.

"We've found very few planets like this in the habitable zone, and many fewer around a quiet star, so this is rare," said Kane. "We don't have a planet quite like this in our solar system."

In our own solar system, there are either small, rocky planets like Earth, Mercury, Venus, and Mars, or much larger planets like Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune that are dominated by gasses rather than land. We don't have planets about half the size of Neptune, though these are common around other stars.

"TOI-270 will soon allow us to study this "missing link" between rocky Earth-like planets and gas-dominant mini-Neptunes, because here all of these types formed in the same system," said lead researcher Maximilian Gunther, a Torres Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Follow-up observations on the system have been planned for 2021, when the James Webb Space Telescope launches. It will be able to measure the composition of the TOI-270 planets' atmospheres for oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon monoxide.

Kane says these kinds of observations can help determine whether a planet has ever had a liquid water ocean, and whether any of the planets has conditions suitable for life as we know it.

While TOI-270 is far enough away that no one living will likely ever travel there, at 73 light-years away it is still considered close.

"The diameter of our galaxy is 100,000 light years, and our galaxy is just one of millions of galaxies," Kane said. "So, 73 light years means it's one of our neighboring stars."

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, NASA's Ames Research Center, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, and the Space Telescope Science Institute. More than a dozen universities, research institutes, and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

Kane, a member of UCR's NASA-funded Alternative Earths Astrobiology Center, is available for media interviews about TESS and his involvement in analyzing its data and observations.

He and the team hope further research will reveal additional planets in the system beyond the three now known. The smaller planet is unlikely to host life because its surface could be too warm for the presence of liquid water. But additional planets at greater distances from the star might be cooler, allowing water to pool on their surfaces.
-end-


University of California - Riverside

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Space
One of the most consistent questions we get at the show is from parents who want to know which episodes are kid-friendly and which aren't. So today, we're releasing a separate feed, Radiolab for Kids. To kick it off, we're rerunning an all-time favorite episode: Space. In the 60's, space exploration was an American obsession. This hour, we chart the path from romance to increasing cynicism. We begin with Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, with a story about the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space. And astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains the Coepernican Principle, and just how insignificant we are. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.