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Artist's conception of HD 21749c. Photo: Robin Dienel, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science

NASA's new planet-hunter — the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) — has found its first confirmed Earth-sized world after launching to space in April 2018.

Background: TESS is designed to detect the small dips in a star's light created when a planet passes in front of its sun. The telescope uses that "transit" to piece together how large (or small) the planet might be.

The big picture: TESS is currently on a two-year mission to hunt for Earth-sized worlds orbiting small, relatively dim stars not far from our planet, furthering the quest to find habitable worlds with possible life out there in the universe.

Details: The planet, named HD 21749c, takes about 8 Earth days to orbit its star, is around the size of our planet and is located about 53 light-years from Earth, researchers report in the journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

  • However, learning more about the world isn't easy because it's so small by cosmic standards.
  • “Measuring the exact mass and composition of such a small planet will be challenging, but important for comparing HD 21749c to Earth,” Sharon Wang, one of the authors of the new study, said in a statement.

The planet has company when orbiting its star. TESS also found a world, named HD 21749b, that's about 23 times Earth's mass orbiting the star every 36 days.

  • Both were confirmed as true signals by the Planet Finder Spectrograph in Chile, which detects slight wobbles in the star as its planets orbit, allowing scientists to measure a planet's mass.

What to watch: This discovery is likely to be followed up by many others as scientists believe that almost every star has at least one planet in its orbit.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

HRW: Over 100 former Afghan security members dead or missing under Taliban rule

Members of the Taliban movement patrol Kabul's airport in September. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

The Taliban have "killed or forcibly disappeared" over 100 former members of Afghanistan's security forces since the group took power in August, a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday found.

Why it matters: It means former military members and officials from the ousted government, activists and other Taliban critics are facing peril amid executions driven by revenge — despite Taliban promises of an "amnesty" with no retributions, notes the New York Times, which first reported the news.

2 hours ago - World

Barbados becomes a republic, replacing U.K. queen with president

Combination images of Dame Sandra Mason, president of Barbados, and Britain's Prince Charles at her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgetown, Barbados, late Monday.

Barbados officially became a republic at midnight local time after Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the Caribbean nation's first president in a ceremony attended by the United Kingdom's Prince Charles.

Why it matters: Mason replaced Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state Tuesday — removing the country's final remaining colonial tie to the U.K. almost 400 years after the first British ships arrived in Barbados.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.