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New ‘super-Earth’ discovered 137 light-years away: NASA

Rocky planets larger than our own, so-called super-Earths, are surprisingly abundant in our Galaxy, and stand as the most likely planets to be habitable. Astronomers are searching for Earth 2.0, a replica of our own system somewhere out there in the cosmos.

In a ground-breaking discovery, a new “super-Earth” has been found in a nearby solar system’s habitable zone, according to the American space agency NASA. The planet, designated as TOI-715 b, is “about one and a half times as wide as Earth” and in a system that is only a measly 137 light-years from Earth.

What is a super-Earth?

Super-Earths are a class of planets unlike any in our solar system – are more massive than Earth yet lighter than ice giants like Neptune and Uranus, and can be made of gas, rock or a combination of both. They are between twice the size of Earth and up to 10 times its mass.

They are rocky planets larger than the Earth, orbiting within the Habitable Zones of their parent stars – the place where liquid water can potentially exist on a planetary surface and where life like our own has the best shot of surviving.

Most of these mysterious planets are discovered when they transit in front of small stars and cause the starlight to dim. From this, researchers can work out the mass and the radius of the planet and the evidence suggests that these worlds are incredibly diverse in their make-up.

Exploring Space with James Webb Telescope

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) played a crucial role in identifying TOI-715 b. The satellite’s ability to detect planets with shorter orbital durations facilitates efficient study and analysis. NASA plans to delve deeper into understanding the newfound planet using the James Webb telescope, with much depending on TOI-715 b’s specific properties.

The term “Super-Earth” refers only to the mass of the planet, and so does not imply anything about the surface conditions or habitability. This does not always mean that they are similar to our planet, meaning not always considered habitable.

The alternative term “gas dwarfs” may be more accurate for those at the higher end of the mass scale, although “mini-Neptunes” is a more common term. In comparison to planets orbiting stars like the Sun, red dwarfs are smaller and colder, which allows planets to cram closer while remaining safely inside the star’s habitable zone.

TOI-715 b revolves around its parent star in the conservative habitable zone, which could give the planet the right temperature for liquid water to form on its surface.

The findings mark another step forward in astronomers’ mission to understand what atmospheric conditions are needed to sustain life and further explore the characteristics of exoplanets beyond our solar system, NASA said.

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