Newly-discovered exoplanet twice the size of Earth could have water

TESS Discovers Third New Planet

Weird 'Sub-Neptune' Exoplanet Discovered by NASA Space Telescope

"It's a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon", University of Chicago graduate student Adina Feinstein, the lead author of a paper on the discovery, said in a NASA news release. The exoplanet lies in the stellar system K2-288, which has two dim, cool stars.

TESS looks for new planets by examining the light from about 200,000 stars and detecting any noticeable changes in brightness.

The new planet is 23 times the size of Earth, meaning it is likely to be gaseous rather than rocky, and it has an atmosphere more dense than Neptune or Uranus. Since K2-288Bb's radius places it in this gap, it may provide a case study of planetary evolution within this size range. Revealed in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), planet Kepler-10c is 17 times heavier than the Earth, and may require scientists to rethink their ideas on planet formation and the likelihood of life in our galaxy.

Citizen scientists have discovered a potentially habitable exoplanet about twice the size of Earth, located 226 light-years away, that may have liquid water on its surface.

Although all of the data from the Kepler mission was run through an algorithm to determine potential planet candidates, visual manpower was needed to actually look at the possible planet transits - or dip in light when a planet passes in front of its star - in the light curve data. "Inspecting, or vetting, transits with the human eye is crucial because noise and other astrophysical events can mimic transits".

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But the "reboot" of the Kepler mission in 2014 that led to the K2 mission allowed for multiple observation campaigns that brought in even more data. Because TESS stares non-stop at one slice of the sky for 27 days, then moves to a neighbouring slice, it captures an unprecedented view of these exploding stars as they brighten and then dim. NASA said the brighter star is half the size of the sun.

As scientists learned how to correct for these systematic errors, this trimming step was eliminated - but the early K2 data Barstow studied had been clipped.

But the scientists couldn't do it alone.

TESS is considered to be a "bridge to the future", finding exoplanet candidates to study in more detail. "So it's going really well, and TESS is already helping us to learn about the diversity of these small planets". In May 2017, volunteers noticed the third transit and began an excited discussion about what was then thought to be an Earth-sized candidate in the system, which caught the attention of Feinstein and her colleagues. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT Lincoln Laboratory; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

"They had looked at this star system a decade ago and never announced anything because they weren't sure if they were looking at a planet versus the activity of the star", Dragomir says.

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But the citizen scientists found the third transit hiding in those first few days of data that had been all but forgotten.

Follow-up observations were made with multiple telescopes to confirm the exoplanet. Data gathered during the course of its scientific mission, however, paved way to the discovery of a new exoplanet.

The planet hunter's latest discovery-a small planet outside our Solar System-was announced at this week's American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

Previous year at the American Astronomical Society meeting, it was announced that citizen scientists helped discover five planets between the size of Earth and Neptune around star K2-138, the first multiplanet system found through crowdsourcing.

"We've confirmed three planets so far, and there are so many more that are just waiting for telescope and people time to be confirmed", Dragomir says.

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