NASA finds planet outside solar system that may have water

NASA satellite reveals gas-formed ‘super earth’ planet

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) spied the mysterious planet in the beginning of its mission scanning the skies for new planets, making it the third such discovery in its first three months of operation.

The "sub-Neptune" planet is about three times Earth's size, but 23 times its mass.

Furthermore, the planet could be gas-rich like Neptune or rocky like Earth.

Its size is unusual for an exoplanet (the term for a planet that orbits a star outside our solar system).

"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". They have also submitted their discovery paper to Astrophysical Journal Letters.

K2-288Bb, as the new planet is called, is located within its star's habitable zone, which is why liquid water is a possibility. Compared to the Sun, the larger of the two stars in the binary system is around half as massive, while the smaller is only about one-third as massive.

The pair were working as interns with Joshua Schlieder, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, at the time.

There is also evidence that a second planet could exist in this system with a 7.8-day orbit - which could be the first Earth-size planet dicovered by TESS.

During their research of data from the fourth batch of observations from Kepler's K2 mission, the three of them noticed that there were two likely planetary transits.

NASA believe they may have found a planet that could contain life. They determined that they should be able to find the signal again, in TESS's "sector 3" data - which they succeeded in doing. It ran out of fuel back in October of past year, but the incredible wealth of data that it sent back during its life is still being sifted through, and new discoveries are just waiting to be made. Astronomers were initially concerned that this repositioning would cause systematic errors in measurements.

NASA's Kepler space telescope ran out of fuel in October past year.

Citizen scientists stepped in and sifted through the troves of data to find K2-288Bb.

The mission has released to the public all the data TESS has collected so far from the first three of the 13 sectors that it will monitor in the southern sky. Kepler observed other events that could be mistaken for planet transits by a computer. For their new analysis, the researchers looked through this data, collected between July 25 and October 14.

However, they needed to see a third transit before they could say they had discovered a planet for definite, but they didn't have one.

Feinstein said: "That's how we missed it - and it took the keen eyes of citizen scientists to make this extremely valuable find and point us to it".

The team began follow-up observations using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, the Keck II telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory and NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility (the latter two in Hawaii), and also examined data from ESA's (the European Space Agency's) Gaia mission. Few planets that orbit close to their stars are more than 1.5 times as large as Earth, yet K2-288Bb is estimated to be roughly 1.9 times the size of our planet.

Johanna Teske, a Hubble fellow and co-author of the report, said: "I'm very interested to know whether [it] has an Earth-like density to match its Earth-like radius - this will contribute to our understanding whether Earth-sized planets have diverse compositions or are all roughly similar to Earth".

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