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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

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.

Exclusive: Hundreds of kids held in Border Patrol stations

Migrants cross the Rio Bravo to get to El Paso, Texas. Photo: Herika Martinez/AFP via Getty Images

More than 700 children who crossed from Mexico into the United States without their parents were in Border Patrol custody as of Sunday, according to an internal Customs and Border Protection document obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The current backup is yet another sign of a brewing crisis for President Biden — and a worsening dilemma for these vulnerable children. Biden is finding it's easier to talk about preventing warehousing kids at the southern border than solving the problem.

Pompeo plots 2024 power play

Mike Pompeo in Washington on Feb. 12. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Mike Pompeo has quickly reentered the political fray, raising money for Republicans, addressing key political gatherings and joining an advocacy group run by Donald Trump's former lawyer.

Why it matters: The former secretary of state is widely considered a potential 2024 presidential contender. His professional moves this week indicate he's working to keep his name in the headlines and bolster a political brand built largely on foreign policies easily contrasted with the Biden White House.