NASA's planet finder discovers weird new world and 6 six exploding stars

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Just nine months after its launch, NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has found at least eight planets, with more than 300 planetary candidates waiting in the wings.

Three new planets and six supernovae outside our solar system have been observed by Nasa's planet-hunting Tess mission in its first three months. Why scientists are saying the new planet's surface is relatively cool is because its star is nearly as bright as our very own Sun, the team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston said.

"It's the coolest small planet that we know of around a star this bright", said Diana Dragomir, a postdoc in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S., who led the discovery.

"We know a lot about atmospheres of hot planets, but because it's very hard to find small planets that orbit farther from their stars, and are therefore cooler, we haven't been able to learn much about these smaller, cooler planets", she continued.

"We think of TESS as an exoplanet-hunter, but in addition TESS is very effective at finding many other types of objects", said Dr. George Ricker, principal investigator with the TESS mission.

The planet is about three times the size of Earth, which puts it in the category of a "sub-Neptune".

According to NASA, the planet is half the size of Neptune and could be gas-rich, though it's possible that it's rocky instead.

"It's the coolest small planet that we know of around a star this bright", Dragomir said. This is likely the result of intense starlight breaking up atmospheric molecules and eroding away the atmospheres of some planets over time, leaving behind two populations. They searched Kepler data for evidence of transits, the regular dimming of a star when an orbiting planet moves across the star's face.

It is the third confirmed exoplanet sighted by TESS, with the first being Pi Mensae c, roughly twice Earth's size and visible to the unaided eye in constellation Mensa. Its discovery was announced by scientists at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

Since it launched in April 2018, TESS, an MIT-led mission, has been monitoring the sky, sector by sector, for momentary dips in the light of about 200,000 nearby stars.

How a small inner planet stays on that path as a bigger planet lurches on an elliptical orbit around the same star is a mystery. The satellite will spend the first year surveying the sky in the Southern Hemisphere, before swiveling around to take in the Northern Hemisphere sky. This is relatively cool considering its proximity to its star.

"There was quite some detective work involved, and the right people were there at the right time", Dragomir said.

In total, Kepler has found around 5,000 unconfirmed "candidate" exoplanets, with a further 2,500 "confirmed" exoplanets that scientists have since shown to be real.

The discoveries of a new planet and several supernovae are exciting enough and what's to come should give us even more information about the phenomena already discovered.

Huang said several more planets have had their status confirmed, but she didn't provide specifics.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by Goddard.

"Reorienting Kepler relative to the Sun caused miniscule changes in the shape of the telescope and the temperature of the electronics, which inevitably affected Kepler's sensitive measurements in the first days of each campaign", said study co-author Geert Barentsen, an astrophysicist at NASA's Ames Research Center, in a statement.

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