Searching for planets among the stars

NASA satellite discovers “Super Earth” that could support water

Searching for planets among the stars
A "Super Earth" is a planet that is bigger than Earth, but smaller than Neptune orbiting in a habitable zone, with temperatures that can support liquid water on its surface. (Source: NASA)

GREENBELT, MD (WECT) - How many planets are out there? That is a question scientists have been working to answer for quite some time.

For the past year, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has been star-gazing in the southern hemisphere looking for planets that orbit some of the stars we see each night.

This week, scientists announced the discovery of a “Super Earth.” It’s a planet that is bigger than Earth, but smaller than Neptune, orbiting in a habitable zone with temperatures that can support liquid water on its surface.

“This is the like the Goldilocks zone, the temperature is just right for liquid water,” said NASA scientist, Tom Barclay. “Liquid water is really interesting because that’s what tells you that it might be inhabitable.”

The satellite focuses on bright stars in the sky and measures dips in its brightness. By searching for patterns, the satellite can help determine a planetary candidates’ temperatures and even year cycle.

"TESS" uses a transit method to measure light changes in a nearby star to look for potential planets.
"TESS" uses a transit method to measure light changes in a nearby star to look for potential planets. (Source: NASA)

“What we are trying to answer at NASA is the question of, ‘Are we alone?’” Barclay added. “Are there other places outside of our solar system that look like Earth? Or are there places that could harbor life and maybe other places that actually have life.”

As the program enters year two, the satellite will turn its sights to the northern hemisphere.

To learn more about the TESS program, check out NASA’s website devoted to the TESS program.

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