NASA's Planet Hunting Satellite Has Discovered 'Missing' Planets

TESS, NASA's newest planet-hunting satellite launched in 2018 to look for missing planets, has now found three.

NASA's Planet Hunting Satellite Has Discovered 'Missing' Planets
Artist's impressions of Exoplanets dottedhippo/iStock

NASA's most recent planet-hunting satellite, known as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, has just discovered a type of new planet - one that's missing from our solar system. 

Launched in 2018, led and run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, TESS has been on the lookout for these exact types of discoveries.

Now its succeeded in part of its mission, by finding three new planets that are based around a neighboring star. 

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The findings of the mission have been published in the journal Nature Astronomy

TOI-270 exactly what the satellite was looking for

University of California associate professor of planetary astrophysics, Stephen Kane, who is assisting NASA's exoplanetary mission, said that the TOI-270 - or the TESS Object of Interest - is precisely what the satellite has been searching for. 

Exoplanets, like the ones found here, are planets that lie outside of our solar system. 

TESS discovered two that are gaseous and approximately twice the size of the planet we call home, whereas the third, smaller, planet is rocky and just slightly bigger than Earth. 

The smaller planet is in fact in the habitable zone, meaning it's at a distance from a star that is warm enough to heat its water to a liquid state. Moreover, its deemed as our 'neighbor' as it's close enough to be seen brightly.

It's also supposedly in a 'quiet' spot, with few flares, allowing scientists and astrophysicists to view it more clearly than others.

'Habitable zone'

Kane said, "We've found very few planets like this in the habitable zone, and many fewer around a quiet star, so this is rare." 

NASA's Planet Hunting Satellite Has Discovered 'Missing' Planets
This infographic illustrates key features of the TOI 270 system, located about 73 light-years away in the southern constellation Pictor. The three known planets were discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite through periodic dips in starlight caused by each orbiting world. Insets show information about the planets, including their relative sizes, and how they compare to Earth. Temperatures given for TOI 270’s planets are equilibrium temperatures, calculated without the warming effects of any possible atmospheres. Source: Scott Wiessinger/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

"We don't have a planet quite like this in our solar system," he continued. 

It doesn't end there, though. The team plans on following up its observations next year when the James Webb Space Telescope launches. 

NASA's Planet Hunting Satellite Has Discovered 'Missing' Planets
Compare and contrast worlds in the TOI 270 system with these illustrations of each planet. Temperatures given for TOI 270 planets are equilibrium temperatures, calculated without taking into account the warming effects of any possible atmospheres. Source: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The research team is looking to see if the planet could be habitable by measuring its composition for oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon monoxide.

NASA's Planet Hunting Satellite Has Discovered 'Missing' Planets
TESS viewed from space. Source: NASA

The reason it's called 'neighboring' is that its a 'mere' 73 light-years away.

"The diameter of our galaxy is 100,000 light-years, and our galaxy is just one of millions of galaxies," said Kane. 

Seventy-three light-years away does, indeed, sound like a close neighbor in this instance.

The search for more missing or additional stars and planets continues for TESS.

Explore TESS here to look at how it operates. 

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