The NASA TESS Spacecraft Just Discovered Two Earth-Like Exoplanets Orbiting A Star Sixty Light Years Away

Thursday, 20 September 2018 - 12:34PM
Astronomy
Space
NASA
Thursday, 20 September 2018 - 12:34PM
The NASA TESS Spacecraft Just Discovered Two Earth-Like Exoplanets Orbiting A Star Sixty Light Years Away
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Earlier this week, we got to see the TESS spacecraft's "first light" images – the first photos a telescope takes after being fully assembled. As impressive as those images were, it turns out that TESS has even bigger news: it's already spotted two new Earth-like exoplanets orbiting the star Pi Mensae!

However, as with most "Earth-like" bodies, these new planets aren't perfect analogs to ours. The first, Pi Men c, is considered a "Hot Earth" because it orbits its star at such a close range (its orbital period is only 6.3 days). The second, Pi Men b, is really exciting: a "Super-Earth" roughly 10 times the size of Jupiter, with an orbital period of over 2,100 days. As mind-blowing as the discovery is, don't plan on visiting Pi Mensae anytime soon... It's about 60 light years away.



For comparison, some of the closest Earth-like exoplanets located around the star Proxima Centauri are only 4.22 light years away. Even if you were traveling at 165,000 mph, it would take you over 17,000 years to reach Proxima Centauri. Even the experimental probes being designed by Breakthrough Starshot, which are going to be wafer-thin and travel at 20% the speed of light (134.12 million mph) will still take 20-25 years to get there.

TESS did discover something a little closer to home, though. Tentative data suggests there's an ultra-hot short-period planet orbiting the star LHS 3844, which is only 49 light years away. LHS 3844 b, as it's called, may not be a planet at all, however. According to researchers, it may actually be a "low-luminosity secondary star." Even if it is a planet, it's probably bathed in deadly radiation from LHS 3844. (Build your galactic vacation home elsewhere.)

If you want to keep up with new discoveries made by TESS, the research team is setting up a page to allow people to see new alerts from the spacecraft, though it's currently not open to the public. You can keep an eye on that page here, or subscribe to our newsletter at the top of the page for more updates here on Outer Places!
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