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Fri Jan 11, 2019, 04:42 AM

Planet Hunter TESS Is Already Spotting Hundreds of Crazy New Worlds

The first data from the space telescope’s mission tallies more than 200 potential planets, including some just 50 light-years away



(NASA)

By Jason Daley
smithsonian.com
January 9, 2019

Last October, NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope took its final bow after uncovering over 2,600 alien worlds during almost a decade in space. But that doesn’t mean the search for exoplanets has stopped—in fact, things are just heating up. Dennis Overbye at The New York Times reports that Kepler’s successor, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), that was launched last April has begun sending back data, including more than 200 potential planets with at least three new worlds already confirmed.

TESS finds planets the same way Kepler did, using the transit method to detect their signal. When a planet passes in front of its star, it creates a tiny dip in the intensity of the star’s light, which astronomers can use to estimate the size and orbit of the planet. While Kepler stared deeply at one spot in space, TESS will cover the entire 360-degree expanse of the sky during its two-year mission.

The new candidate planets were announced at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. These celestial bodies come from the first four segments of sky that TESS has scanned since officially beginning its mission in July. Lisa Grossman at Science News reports that some of the latest exoplanets are “downright strange.”

One, dubbed HD 21749b, orbits dwarf star HD 21749 in the constellation Reticulum just 52 light-years away. It takes about 36 Earth-days to orbit its sun, the longest orbital period of any nearby planet observed so far. It’s also the coolest (temperature-wise) nearby planet they’ve found, but that doesn’t mean it’s habitable.

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/planet-hunter-tess-already-spotting-crazy-new-worlds-180971202/#3R3XVC6A66JtHDJH.99

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