Jul 21, 2019 | Updated: 08:54 AM EDT

NASA's TESS Finds its Smallest Exoplanet Yet

Jul 13, 2019 06:49 AM EDT

size comparison for Mars, L98-59b, and Earth
(Photo : NASA Goddard)
Size comparison for Mars, L98-59b, and Earth (Screenshot taken from video "TESS Discovers Its Tiniest World To Date")

As of the moment, a number of spacecraft from the NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADministration (NASA) has been orbiting the Earth or traveling through space with the purpose to aid humankind in understanding what lies outside their habitat planet.

One of these space crafts, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), has been continuously discovering exoplanets. The most recent discovery that the said spacecraft has forwarded to scientists on Earth is the set of planets smaller than the Earth. Scientists have named the said planet in the L 98-59 system, as L 98-59B which is, which is 80% the size of the Earth. This makes this recent discovery smaller by 10% than TESS's previous tiniest finding.

The said system is located at 34.6 light years away. Other planets found in the system are larger, namely planets 59c and 59d, all of which sit in the "Venus zone". According to scientists, planets that are found within the said zone could be rendered uninhabitable once a runaway greenhouse gas effect occurs.

TESS was able to find the planets by using regular dips in the star's brightness caused by planets passing around it. This method is more commonly known as transits. More information will be available as soon as TESS completes its first year of studies in July. The experts said that the data which will be collected from TESS could be enough to report in better detail information about the newly discovered planets. Scientists also talked about the possibility of spotting and discovering even more planets during the review of the gathered data.

This isn't the first time that the spacecraft from NASA discovered planets smaller than the Earth. For instance, previous discoveries include Kepler - 37B which is barely larger than the moon. TESS has just been around in operation for about a year as its first light was recorded on August 2018. TESS is tasked to monitor the northern and southern celestial hemispheres within its first two years in operation.

This recent discovery, however, proves that TESS can spot a wide range of exoplanets. Scientists are hopeful that one-day TESS could detect rocky worlds that could use the James Webb Space Telescope for closer studies.

Experts pointed out that this quest isn't just for the purpose of finding extrasolar life, but also, these studies could help explain how a planet becomes habitable or how it would evolve into uninhabitable hellscape much like Venus' terrain and atmosphere.

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