NASA discovers super-Earth

Science Desk
8 January 2020, Wed
Published: 06:38

NASA discovers super-Earth

NASA astronomers have found yet another planet outside our solar system that has the potential to host alien life.

On Monday, a team of researchers announced that the agency's planet-hunting telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), has discovered an Earth-sized exoplanet that has the potential to hold liquid water.

The planet, called TOI 700 d, is about 100 light-years away, and it orbits a red dwarf star with about 40% the mass of our sun.

TOI 700 d sits in its star's Goldilocks-like habitable zone — the area around a star where it's not too hot and not too cold for water on orbiting planets to remain in a liquid state. This particular exoplanet (the term for planets outside our solar system) is about 20% bigger than Earth, and it receives about 86% as much light energy as Earth gets from the sun. It's one of only five Earth-sized planets researchers have ever found in a star's habitable zone.

It's also the first Earth-sized planet TESS has ever found within its star's habitable zone. (The space telescope became operational in 2018.)

Exoplanets that orbit red dwarfs like TOI 700 aren't always the best places to look for life since such stars are prone to powerful flares. Those can fry a planet's atmosphere, making the chance of alien life there very slim. 

But in the case of TOI 700, the conditions seem just right. 

"In 11 months of data, we saw no flares from the star, which improves the chances TOI 700 d is habitable and makes it easier to model its atmospheric and surface conditions," Emily Gilbert, who leads the team that found the exoplanet, said in a NASA press release.