Confirmation of toasty TESS planet leads to surprising find of promising world

Confirmation of toasty TESS planet leads to surprising find of promising world

The star, called TOI 270, is surrounded by a trio of planets, including one rocky world and a pair of "sub-Neptune" worlds that scientists are eager to learn more about.

The discovery, published in Nature Astronomy, also has researchers curious about a type of "missing link" planet that we don't have in our own solar system.

"This system is exactly what TESS was created to find - small, temperate planets that pass or transit, in front of an inactive host star, one lacking excessive stellar activity, such as flares", lead researcher Maximilian Gunther of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in a statement.

"All of the planets are expected to be tidally locked to the star, which means they only rotate once every orbit and keep the same side facing the star at all times, just as the moon does in its orbit around Earth".

The other two planets are about twice as big as Earth.

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite - has been scanning the skies for a little over a year now and it's already returned a massive treasure trove of discoveries.

TESS, NASA's most powerful planet-hunting telescope ever, watches thousands of stars for transits. With a single light year measuring 5.88 trillion miles, it's hard to determine much about any of the new worlds except their diameter, mass and the speed at which they orbit their parent star. Temperatures given for TOI 270's planets are equilibrium temperatures, calculated without the warming effects of any possible atmospheres.

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"TOI 270 is perfectly situated in the sky for studying the atmospheres of its outer planets with NASA's future James Webb Space Telescope", the study's co-author Adina Feinstein added in the NASA release.

Not only is the smaller planet in the habitable zone - the range of distances from a star that is warm enough to allow liquid-water oceans on a planet - but the TOI-270 star is nearby, making it brighter for viewing.

Without an atmosphere, it has an equilibrium temperature of -64 F (-53 C), which would make the planet seem more glacial than habitable.

Even through TESS monitored the star for about a month, Luque's team predicts any transit would have occurred outside the TESS observing window. Described as an "oven-hot world" by NASA, TOI 270 b orbits the star every 3.4 days, is roughly 25 percent larger than Earth and is estimated to have a mass around 1.9 times greater than Earth's.

Planets are like puppies-they come in all kinds of sizes, all kinds of colors and they're often found in litters. An orbiting planet produces a gravitational tug on its star, which results in a small reflex motion that astronomers can detect through tiny color changes in the starlight.

To confirm the presence of GJ 357 b and discover its neighbors, Luque and his colleagues turned to existing ground-based measurements of the star's radial velocity, or the speed of its motion along our line of sight. The space agency says more than a dozen universities, research institutes and observations are active in the TESS mission.

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