Science

NASA discovers ‘super-Earth’ which could be ripe for human colonization

The group of astronomers found the exoplanet in a constellation called Hydra which is around 31 light-years from Earth, as per NASA yesterday, July 31. But if GJ 357 d is rocky and has just the right kind of atmosphere, liquid water and maybe even life could exist on its surface. TOI 270 is described as a "faint, cool star" that is estimated to be about 40 percent smaller than our sun in both size and mass.

The astronomical body, twice Earth's size, was mapped in the outer edge of its host star's so-called "habitable zone", which led scientists to believe this super-exoplanet could harbour water on its surface - a key life-sustaining factor.

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has made several discoveries in recent days, including a planet with three suns and a sun with three planets.

Using TESS, a US$337-million NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that was launched in April 2018, the astronomers had detected another planet orbiting the same star, known as GJ 357.

Without an atmosphere, however, the planet likely has an equilibrium temperature of around -64 Fahrenheit (-53 Celsius), which would make it a frozen hellscape and likely nigh on impossible to colonize without expending vast resources - ice picks at the ready, everyone.

'Although it can not host life, it is noteworthy as the third-nearest transiting exoplanet known to date and one of the best rocky planets we have for measuring the composition of any atmosphere it may possess'.

They're now calling the planet GJ 357 d, and astronomers say they will soon be able to monitor the planet for alien lifeforms.

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In its 15 months of service, NASA's TESS exoplanet-hunting satellite has racked up many exciting exoplanet discoveries, but few show promise in the search for extraterrestrial life.

But while researchers were looking at ground-based data to confirm the existence of the hot Earth, they uncovered two additional worlds. Some of those could be habitable, including GJ 357 d.

TESS, which is created to comb the universe for habitable worlds, also found two other planets orbiting the star. The planet weighs at least 6.1 times Earth's mass, and orbits the star every 55.7 days at a range about 20% of Earth's distance from the Sun.

"If the planet has a dense atmosphere, which will take future studies to determine, it could trap enough heat to warm the planet and allow liquid water on its surface", Diana Kossakowski, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, said in the report by NASA yesterday.

In this case that's about five times closer to the star than Earth is to the Sun, but because this star is so much dimmer than the Sun, the planet actually receives less energy than Earth does.

Lisa Kaltenegger, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University who published a separate paper in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, suggests the planet could harbour life.

'TESS will cast a wider net than ever before for enigmatic worlds whose properties can be probed by NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and other missions'.



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