NASA satellite locates possibly habitable super-Earth 31 light years away

The planet was spotted by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

The alien Earth news arrives only days after three new planets were discovered in a star system just 73 light years away from Earth - including two planets that may be "missing links" in planetary formation.

The reason why scientists are pretty excited about the discovery, is because they think it might have liquid water on it. The exoplanet is more massive than our home planet and has conditions that suggest it could potentially support life.

"GJ 357 d is located within the outer edge of its star's habitable zone, where it receives about the same amount of stellar energy from its star as Mars does from the sun", says coauthor Diana Kossakowski, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, in a press statement. It orbits the host star every 55.7 days at a proximity of about one-fifth of the distance between the Earth and the sun.

The newly-discovered planets orbit a star called GJ 357, classified as an M-type dwarf one-third the mass of our sun, and 40% cooler than our sun.

If this happens, GJ 357 d would become the closest transiting, potentially habitable planet in the solar neighborhood.

The team found that if GJ 357 d has a geological cycle that regulates carbon dioxide concentration like on Earth, then the surface would be lovely and warm and possibly quite liveable.

Researchers also said that the temperature in this Super-Earth could be negative 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

The middle planet, GJ 357C, has a mass approximately 3.4 times Earth's, and orbits around its star every 9.1 days.

"The other fundamental idea behind TESS was, we wanted to make sure that we could survey the entire solar neighborhood and find the systems that are close enough [so] that their host stars are bright enough", Ricker told Space.com.

The size of the GJ 357 star, for one thing. The planets orbiting GJ 357 have their own pull on the small star, small reflex motions that scientists can track through tiny alterations in starlight.

A paper describing the findings was published on Wednesday, in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics and is available online.

And this goal benefits from the extensive collaboration practiced by this global community of researchers, said Patricia Boyd, head of the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT's Lincoln Laboratory; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

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