NASA satellite looking for life in space finds new planet outside solar system

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Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

TINY: L 98-59b the tiniest discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Pic: NASA)

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) made the amazing discovery of a world which is between the size of Mars and Earth.

L 98-59b, which orbits a bright and cool nearby star, L 98-59 is the tiniest discovered by the satellite since its launch in April 2018.

The planet is orbited by two other worlds, L98-59b and L8-59c.

While the sizes of the three planets are known, scientists need to use telescopes to investigate whether they have atmospheres and can support life.

The discovery of the L 98-59 worlds doubles the number of small planets beyond our solar system with the best potential for this type of research.

Veselin Kostov, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said: “The discovery is a great engineering and scientific accomplishment for TESS.” 


“For atmospheric studies of small planets, you need short orbits around bright stars, but such planets are difficult to detect. This system has the potential for fascinating future studies.”

L 98-59b is around 80% Earth’s size and about 10% smaller than the previous record smallest planet discovered by TESS. 

Its host star, L 98-59, is an M dwarf about one-third the mass of the Sun and lies about 35 light-years away in the southern constellation Volans. 

Earth

COMPARISON: L 98-59b is around 80% Earth’s size (Pic: NASA)

Even smaller planets have been discovered in data collected by NASA’s Kepler satellite, including Kepler-37b, which is only 20% larger than the Moon.

Two other worlds discovered in the system, L 98-59c and L 98-59d, are around 1.4 and 1.6 times Earth’s size.

The satellite was able to discover the planets by assessing ‘transits’ – periodic dips in the star’s brightness caused by the worlds passing in front of it.

A 24-by-96-degree region of the sky is measured by the satellite – known as a sector – for 27 days at a time.

By the time it has finished its first year of observations in July, the L 98-59 system will have appeared in seven of the 13 sectors that make up the southern sky.

Mr Kostov’s team hope this will refine what’s known about the three confirmed planets and search for additional worlds.

“If you have more than one planet orbiting in a system, they can gravitationally interact with each other,” said Jonathan Brande, a co-author and astrophysicist at Goddard and the University of Maryland, College Park.

“TESS will observe L 98-59 in enough sectors that it may be able to detect planets with orbits around 100 days. But if we get really lucky, we might see the gravitational effects of undiscovered planets on the ones we currently know.”

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