The width of the exoplanet TOI-715 b is about one and a half times the width of Earth.
Could a recently discovered “super-Earth” have the potential temperature and conditions to sustain life?
The new exoplanet is located “fairly close to us” – just 137 light-years away – and orbits within a “habitable zone”, according to NASA.
Astronomers say the planet, called TOI-715 b, is about one and a half times the width of Earth and orbits a small, reddish star. The same system may also harbor a second Earth-sized planet, which, if confirmed, “would become the smallest planet in the habitable zone ever discovered by TESS.” [the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite] “Until now,” NASA said in a January 31 press release.
Given the super-Earth's distance from its parent star, it may be in a conservative “habitable zone” and harbor the right temperature for liquid water to form on its surface, which is necessary for life to sustain, according to the agency, which also added that “several other factors must line up, of course.”
NASA said the habitable zone measurements — “a narrower and perhaps more robust definition than the broader ‘optimistic’ habitable zone” — place the newly discovered planet, possibly a smaller Earth-sized planet, at a “primary position” from its parent star.
The agency said that because of the short distance that the super-Earth orbits from its parent star, which is a red dwarf smaller and cooler than Earth's sun, the planet's “year” is equivalent to 19 Earth days.
NASA said narrower orbits mean that “planets can be detected more easily and observed more frequently.”
Since its launch in 2018, TESS has added to astronomers' inventory of exoplanets in the habitable zone, such as TOI-715 b, which can be closely examined by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, the agency said.
NASA said the Webb telescope is designed not only to detect exoplanets but “to explore the composition of their atmospheres, which could provide clues to the possible presence of life.”
The research and discovery about the super-Earth was led by Georgina Drensfield at the University of Birmingham in the UK, and was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in January.
NASA said the results represent another step forward in astronomers' mission to understand the atmospheric conditions needed to sustain life and continue exploring the properties of exoplanets outside our solar system.
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