NASA's newest planet hunter has discovered its first Earth-size alien world. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) spotted the planet, as well as a weird "sub-Neptune" world, circling the star HD 21749, which lies about 53 light-years from Earth, a new study reports.
"It's so exciting that TESS, which launched just about a year ago, is already a game-changer in the planet-hunting business," study co-author Johanna Teske, of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.
TESS soared to Earth orbit in April 2018 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to hunt for planets around some of the closest and brightest stars in the sky. This work involves looking for the tiny brightness dips that occur when alien worlds cross their host stars' faces from the spacecraft's perspective.
NASA's recently deceased Kepler space telescope also used this "transit method," and to great effect; Kepler has found about 70% of the 4,000 exoplanets discovered to date. But TESS' total tally should end up topping that of Kepler, NASA officials have said.
Astronomers hope TESS spots some potentially habitable worlds in systems that are near enough for other instruments — such as NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope — to study in detail. James Webb, which is due to launch in 2021, will probe the atmospheres of such planets, looking for gases that might be signs of life. Read More...
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