Aug 1, 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."

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

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Creating 'Planet B' in Earth's image

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Remaking Earth on another planet is likely not possible, and experts say the current talk about it perpetuates a problematic idea that we could one day leave Earth's problems behind.

Driving the news: SpaceX founder Elon Musk yet again waded into the world of terraforming — transforming a planet to make it like our Earth. He declared on Twitter that a series of nuclear explosions above Mars could create "artificial suns" to warm the world and make it habitable.

Go deeperArrowAug 27, 2019

A black hole eats a neutron star

The LIGO detector in Louisiana. Photo: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

Astronomers think they've detected the ripples in space and time sent out by a black hole and neutron star colliding.

The big picture: Scientists have detected gravitational waves sent out by 2 black holes merging and 2 neutron stars merging, but if confirmed, this will be the first detection of a black hole and neutron star colliding.

Go deeperArrowAug 20, 2019

Mars' spacecraft go on summer vacation

Mars seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI

The robots responsible for exploring Mars from the surface and orbit are about to go on holiday.

The big picture: Every 2 years, Mars and Earth reach a point in their orbits known as solar conjunction, when the 2 planets are on opposite sides of the Sun, making communications more difficult.

Go deeperArrowAug 27, 2019