Two undiscovered planets beyond our solar system have been found by a NASA telescope which has been orbiting in space for five months. The 'super-Earth' and 'hot Earth' planets were spotted in solar systems at least 49 light-years away during a $337million mission. NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or 'TESS' made the incredible discovery.
It marks the satellite's first discovery on its two-year mission since its April launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, officials confirmed on Thursday. 'TESS' is designed to detect worlds beyond our solar system, as part of astronomers' bid to expand the known catalog of so-called exoplanets, worlds circling distant stars. While the two planets are too hot to support life, TESS Deputy Science Director Sara Seager expects many more such discoveries.
She told Reuters: “We will have to wait and see what else TESS discovers. We do know that planets are out there, littering the night sky, just waiting to be found.”
TESS is designed to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel.
NASA expects to pinpoint thousands more previously unknown worlds, perhaps hundreds of them Earth-sized or "super-Earth" sized - no larger than twice as big as our home planet. Those are believed the most likely to feature rocky surfaces or oceans and are thus considered the best candidates for life to evolve.
Scientists have said they hope TESS will ultimately help catalog at least 100 more rocky exoplanets for further study in what has become one of astronomy's newest fields of exploration. MIT researchers on Wednesday (September 19) announced the discovery of Pi Mensae c, a "super-earth" planet 60 light-years away orbiting its sun every 6.3 days. The discovery of LHS 3844 b, a "hot-earth" planet 49 light-years away that orbits its sun every 11 hours, was announced the next day.
Pi Mensae c could have a solid surface or be a waterworld as the composition of such planets is a mixed bag, Martin Spill, NASA's program scientist for TESS, said in a phone interview.