Science

"Unlike Any Planet in Our Solar System" -New TESS Discovery

The exoplanets, which are among the smallest and closest known, are a tantalizing target for scientists hoping to understand how different-sized planets come to form, and may even be a future hunting ground for extraterrestrial life.

Researchers have discovered a planet approximately 45 million years old, orbiting one of its brightest young stars. The calm nature of the star, along with its high luminosity thanks to its relative proximity relative to Earth, makes TOI 270 an excellent prospect for exoplanet scientists.

TESS found TOI 270's intriguing planets by looking for a dimming of the host star that indicates a planet passing around it.

"TOI-270 is a true Disneyland for exoplanet science, and one of the prime systems TESS was set out to discover", Günther said.

One of the trio is a rocky super-Earth (like our planet, but slightly bigger), and two gassy planets like Neptune, but smaller (and about twice the size of Earth). Instead, our solar system is occupied by two extremes - the smaller rocky planets such as Mercury and Venus, and the enormous gassy giants Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune.

The planet is described as having a radius that is 1.38 R_Earth, which means that it is a little over a third larger than our planet.

'TOI-270 will soon allow us to study this "missing link" between rocky Earth-like planets and gas-dominant mini-Neptunes, because here all of these types formed in the same system, ' said Dr Günther.

This infographic illustrates key features of the TOI 270 system, located about 73 light-years away in the southern constellation Pictor. While thousands of exoplanet discoveries have already been made, only a handful have been discovered circling relatively young stars. The researchers eventually found evidence of three planets, which orbit the star every 3.4, 5.7 and 11.4 Earth days, respectively. Temperatures given for TOI 270's planets are equilibrium temperatures, calculated without the warming effects of any possible atmospheres.

'That's a very interesting thing, because it lets us study their dynamical behaviour'.

'We learned from Kepler that there are more planets than stars in our sky, and now TESS will open our eyes to the variety of planets around some of the closest stars, ' said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA's Headquarters.

Astronomers plan to take another look at TOI 270 after NASA's next-generation James Webb Space Telescope launches, hopefully in 2021.

'It is an exceptional laboratory for not one, but many reasons - it really ticks all the boxes'.



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