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

An image of  the discovery of three planets around a star known as GJ 35.
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."

The big picture: Astronomers from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands and the University of La Laguna, Spain, published the findings on the GJ 357 system in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, and they were presented at an exoplanet conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Wednesday.

  • The astronomers detected via TESS another planet orbiting the same star, named GJ 357, and deeper research by Spanish astronomers led to the discovery of 2 more planets in the system — including the super-Earth, GJ 357 d, which takes almost 56 days to orbit its host star at a distance roughly one-fifth of that between Earth and the sun.
  • The other 2 known planets in the star system, GJ 357 b and GJ 357 c, are believed to be far too hot to be habitable, according to Kaltenegger.

What's next? Kaltenegger said a pair of next-generation telescopes in Chile should reveal more details once operating in 2025 about the super-Earth, including whether it is rocky or has oceans, per NBC News.

Go deeper: What scientists look for to tell if an exoplanet is habitable