NASA satellite locates possibly habitable super-Earth 31 light years away

Katie Ramirez
August 2, 2019

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a mission created to comb the heavens for exoplanets, has discovered its first potentially habitable world outside the solar system, according to a NASA release on Wednesday.

The planet, GJ 357 d, orbits a dwarf star in the Hydra constellation and may have the right conditions to support liquid water as it lies within its star's habitable zone, reported CNN. This does not account for any potential warming effects of an atmosphere if it has one. The planet was discovered with others in the GJ 357 solar system through what are known as "transits", when the planet's orbit places it in between the Earth and its own star, creating a shadow. Researchers don't know if it's rocky like Earth, but it orbits its star every 55.7 days and has a temperature of -64 degrees Fahrenheit.

"GJ 357 d is located within the outer edge of its star's habitable zone, where it receives about the same amount of stellar energy from its star as Mars does from the Sun". An atmosphere could make it warmer.

Of this trio of planets, both the mass and radius is only known for GJ 357 b and the worldwide team of scientists led by Rafael Luque, at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC) on Tenerife who discovered the system, have calculated that it has a mean density like Earth. All of them are approximately the size of earth with varying radii.

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The first exoplanet discovered around the star was GJ 357 b. Alongside it are GJ 357 b, a so-called "hot Earth" about 22% larger than Earth, and GJ 357 c, which is at least 3.4 times bigger than our planet.

NASA's successor to the Kepler's satellite is equipped with four cameras allowing it to view 85 percent of the entire sky, as it searches exoplanets orbiting stars less than 300 light-years away. An atmosphere could cause it to be warmer. Dr Lisa Kaltenegger, who led the study, said: "This is exciting, as this is humanity's first nearby super-Earth that could harbour life - uncovered with help from TESS, our small, mighty mission with a huge reach". "With a thick atmosphere, the planet GJ 357 d could maintain liquid water on its surface like Earth and we could pick out signs of life with upcoming telescopes soon to be online". As a result, the surface temperature at GJ 357 b approaches 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the middle of those two planets is GJ 357 c.

In addition to Kaltenegger, Madden and Lin, co-authors of "The Habitability of GJ 357d: Possible Climates and Observability", include Sarah Rugheimer, Oxford University; Antigona Segura, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM); Rafael Luque and Eric Pallé, both of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands and the University of La Laguna; and Néstor Espinoza, Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany.

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