Jul 30, 2019

3 planets discovered in nearby solar system vastly different from our own

Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger

Three newly discovered planets just 73 light-years from our own are helping scientists learn more about the diverse solar systems that populate our galaxy, according to a new study in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Key takeaway: The 3 worlds all reside in the TOI-270 star system, a solar system that is very different from our own.

  • Two of the planets — TOI 270c and TOI 270d — are about half the size of Neptune, and the other is slightly larger than Earth.
  • The “sub-Neptunes” represent a type of planet that doesn’t exist in our solar system.

The big picture: Scientists hope to study solar systems wildly different from our own in order to gain a better understanding of just how unique our solar system is in the grand scheme of things.

Details: The three newfound planets — found by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) — orbit a star that is much smaller and dimmer than our Sun.

  • TOI 270b orbits the star every 3.4 Earth days and is just slightly larger than Earth, but it’s extremely hot at 490°F (254°C) on average.
  • TOI 270c is slightly farther from its star, with an almost 6-day orbit, and it is likely covered by a dense atmosphere.
  • The sub-Neptune that’s farthest from its star — TOI 270d — may have an upper atmosphere conducive to some forms of life, but below its clouds, the surface is probably uninhabitable, scientists say.

Go deeper: An orrery of TESS' planets

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Solving the mysteries of Uranus and Neptune

Neptune as seen by Voyager 2 in 1989. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Kevin M. Gill

Uranus and Neptune — the long-neglected ice giants in the outer solar system — could be the keys to unlocking the mysteries of planets far from our solar system.

Why it matters: Scientists have found a whole bunch of planets around the size of Neptune orbiting stars light-years from our own, so learning more about our own ice giants could help us piece together exactly what's going on with those distant worlds.

Go deeperArrowAug 20, 2019

Newly uncovered super-Earth 31 light-years away may be habitable

An illustration of the 3 planets around a star known as GJ 357. Photo: NASA

NASA announced Wednesday that its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has uncovered a potentially habitable planet just 31 light-years away from our solar system.

Why it matters: TESS member and associate professor of astronomy Lisa Kaltenegger, who led the international team and who is also director of Cornell's Carl Sagan Institute, said in a statement the discovery of the exoplanet, named GJ 357 d, "is humanity's first nearby super-Earth that could harbor life."

Go deeperArrowAug 1, 2019

Tesla launches program for customers to rent solar panels

Tesla launched a new program on Sunday to enable customers to rent solar panel systems.

Why it matters: This is Tesla's latest effort to bolster its struggling solar business lines, and it's part of a wider relaunch of Tesla's solar business that CEO Elon Musk announced via Twitter.

Go deeperArrowAug 19, 2019