Researchers have discovered a "ocean world" 100 light-years away from Earth
By: April Carson
NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is difficult to wrap your head around. It would be the equivalent of a thousand years ago, someone trying to explain how future scientists will have a machine that detects alien worlds located too far for the human imagination grasp.
This space-based instrument has discovered thousands of exoplanets since its inception in 2018. We've got eyes on a rugby ball planet, a lava-covered orb, and an orb that rains glass - all of which appear to be sideways rainbows.
One such distant realm, meticulously surveyed by TESS, may be covered in a layer of life's elixir: water, according to international scientists on Wednesday.
I'm not sure about you, but I'm getting a striking resemblance to Matt Damon's mission in Interstellar. 100 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Aquarius, sits a star known as GJ 357. It's about one-third the size of our Sun and is 11 million years old - relatively young in stellar terms.
This system contains at least three planets, one of which - GJ 357 d - is about 6.9 times Earth's size and resides in the habitable zone, where liquid water could theoretically exist on its surface.
To add to the allure, researchers say that this world has a mass similar to that of Neptune, making it a "sub-Neptune" or "mini-Neptune." But unlike Neptune - a frigid ice giant composed mostly of hydrogen and helium gas - this object has a solid, rocky surface.
This discovery, along with the recent finds of several super-Earths in the habitable zone around nearby low-mass stars, suggests that such rocky, potentially habitable worlds might be more common than we thought.
"With a density of only 23% that of Earth, it is also by far the least dense exoplanet known in the habitable zone to date," lead author Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer at Cornell University and director of the Carl Sagan Institute, said in a statement. "This planet has an atmosphere but is about 60% smaller than Neptune."
This "ocean world" proposed by the team, which was published in The Astronomical Journal this month, may be found some 100 light-years from Earth and revolves inside a binary star system tucked into the Draco constellation. It is predicted to be 70 percent bigger than Earth, with a mass of about five times that of our planet, to spin at the speed of seven Earth days, and to have a temperature neither too hot nor too chilly for liquid water to exist on its surface.
The punchline is that its density appears to be consistent with a very deep ocean, or it's a big rock with little to no atmosphere, or it may be an atmosphere constructed of hydrogen and helium, according on NASA.
Charles Cadieux, lead author of the study and doctoral student at the University of Montreal's Institute for Research on Exoplanets said Wednesday that "TOI-1452 b is one of the best candidates for an ocean planet that we have found to date."
Continuing, he explained that "its radius and mass suggest a much lower density than what one would expect for a planet that is basically made up of metal and rock, like Earth."
If the theory that TOI-1452b is linked to Poseidon's expectations is correct, it will be similar to a number of locations in our solar system. Enceladus, Saturn's brilliant and chilly moon, is said to contain a worldwide subsurface saltwater ocean beneath an ice shield. Ganymede, one of Jupiter's sparkling buddies and the largest moon in the neighborhood, has its own frozen watery realm.
Although exoplanet discoveries have been made at a rapidly increasing rate in recent years, it's especially exciting when one is discovered today.
The James Webb Space Telescope is yet another powerful machine that helps us understand our place in the universe. It does this by collecting data about infrared light, which can unveil secrets hidden within space.
It's also "in a position to observe year-round," according to the press release, which adds that TOI-1452 b is in an area of the sky where the telescope can see all year.
"We believe that our observations with the Webb Telescope will be crucial to understanding TOI-1452 b," said René Doyon, director of the University of Montréal's iREx and author of a recent study. Doyon is also a member of the team behind one of JWST's major instruments. "As soon as we can get access, we'll book time on Webb to observe this strange world."
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency, with Canadian involvement. While aboard its future home, Doyon and his team will look at this exoplanet's atmosphere in far more detail than they could while JWST was being built. It is one of the few known temperate planets that seems to be an ocean planet and exhibits features comparable to those seen on Earth. This is why it's so intriguing to consider.
Furthermore, the fact that TOI-1452 b is expected to have such a cold climate is due to the fact that the star it orbits in the binary star system is significantly smaller than our sun and does not stray too far from Earth. According to the study's authors, this ball of gas sits approximately two and a half times as distant from its star-partner as Pluto is from our sun.
TOI-1452 b's story is so complex that even TESS needed help writing it. Consequently, researchers had to rely on other high-tech instruments, such as the Observatoire du Mont-Megantic's PESTO camera. The PESTO camera specializes in the red part of the electromagnetic spectrum and would have blown our hypothetical ancient audience's minds just like the other instruments being used today.
"The OMM played a key part in determining the signal's nature and estimating TOI-1452's radius," Cadieux added. "This was no simple check; we needed to make sure that TESS had discovered a planet orbiting TOI-1452, which is the brightest of the binary system's two stars."
The team's hard work paid off. TOI-1452 b is, in fact, a planet about the size of Neptune that orbits its host star every 93 days. The researchers believe that the planet is most likely a gas giant with a rocky or icy core. It also has a very low density, which means that it could have a large atmosphere of hydrogen and helium.
While TOI-1452 b is an exciting discovery, it's not the only "ocean world" out there. In 2016, astronomers discovered another Neptune-sized planet called GJ 436 b that also has a large atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. This planet, however, is much closer to its host star than TOI-1452 b, and it's thought to have a much hotter surface temperature.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
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