Scientists detect 2 planets with several times Earth's radius

The celestial bodies are the longest-period exoplanets spotted by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to date.
Loukia Papadopoulos
An illustration of the two exoplanets.jpg
An illustration of the two exoplanets.

Tedi Vick 

Scientists from The University of New Mexico (UNM) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have discovered the longest-period exoplanets spotted by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) to date that are orbiting around a K dwarf star.

This is according to a press release by the institution published on Thursday.

Jupiter planets

The warm Jupiter planets are at least six times Earth's radius and have been named TOI-4600 b and c.

The astronomers reported that the K dwarf star in the middle of the two newly-spotted exoplanets is slightly smaller and cooler than Earth's Sun. Meanwhile, TOI-4600 b has an orbital period of 82.69-days and TOI–4600 c has one of 482.82-days.

This discovery was a special one as UNM's Ismael Mireles, the lead author of the paper, sought help from professional and amateur astronomers across the world to confirm that the new detections were indeed planets. These citizen scientists were able to observe a transit happening confirming that these celestial objects were indeed on target.

“People, who are either retired or have a different day job but who are also amateur astronomers, are contributing very useful data to help verify these planets. The results that they are producing are of professional quality. The efforts of these committed citizen scientists are critical to the process of confirming these planets” Diana Dragomir, assistant professor in UNM’s Department of Physics and Astronomy stated.  

Mireles and his team proceeded to replace the velocity measurements of the planets to analyze how much the host star wobbled because its pull on the planets can infer some crucial data about the celestial objects.

“When we got the measurements, we were seeing very little movement in the target star. So when you start, you could be responsible for what we were seeing. Those two things together pretty much ruled it out. At that point we were sure that we had two planets,” Mireles stated.

From there, the scientists were able to determine that TOI-4600 b is just under seven times Earth’s radius and TOI-4600 b is about nine and a half times Earth’s radius. 

Researchers were also able to compare the two newly-discovered exoplanets to multiple-planet systems that have been found by past missions and instruments. 

Planet formation

“The main thing is trying to uncover more about planet formation because based on what we know about the exoplanets we found, so far, nothing really looks like the solar system. The interesting thing is that we want to learn about this planet formation. We have over 5,000 exoplanets now, but none of these systems really look like the solar system. And so we want to find out how these different types of systems formed and migrated,” Mireles said. 

The new data surfaces some very interesting questions that the researchers will continue to explore.

“We want to find out how these are formed? Are there other planets in this system? Does that tell us anything about how these giant planets affect smaller planets that might be in there or might not be in there and why they're not there? There's still things that we want to find out and that will tell us a lot about planet formation,” Mireles said.

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