TESS satellite identifies nearby, potentially habitable super-Earth
We may find signs of life a mere 31 light-years away.
- The TESS satellite recently identified a nearby super-Earth sitting in the habitable zone of its star.
- TESS isn't equipped to make the sensitive measurements necessary to characterize the planet's atmosphere, but models suggest the planet could have running water, a major indicator that it can host life.
- The upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will be able to look at this planet in greater detail and assess whether life exists on it or not.
The TESS satellite has uncovered a celestial neighbor that not only might host life, but that's also very close by. The newly discovered exoplanet dubbed GJ 357 d is just a little over 31 light-years away.
"This is exciting, as this is TESS's first discovery of a nearby super-Earth that could harbor life, said astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger in a statement. "TESS is a small, mighty mission with a huge reach." TESS, which stands for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, was launched in April of 2018 with the goal of detecting exoplanets using what's known as the transit method. Simply put, this method measures the brightness of a star and looks for any dips in the overall brightness as an orbiting planet crosses between the satellite and the star.
Using this method, astronomers first identified a different planet, GJ 357 b, which is a "hot Earth" roughly 22 percent larger than our own planet, whose equilibrium temperature was estimated at around 485 degrees Fahrenheit (252 degrees Celsius). As astronomers continued to monitor the star, they uncovered two siblings of GJ 357 b: GJ 357 c, which was also an extremely hot planet roughly 3.4 times the size of Earth, and GJ 357 d, which sits right in the habitable zone around its host star.
The size, orbit, and proximity of GJ 357 d makes it seem like the planet could be capable of hosting life, but one more feature needs to be confirmed first: the presence of an atmosphere. "With a thick atmosphere, the planet GJ 357 d could maintain liquid water on its surface like Earth, and we could pick out signs of life with telescopes that will soon be online," said Kaltenegger.
Waiting on Webb
TESS isn't designed to characterize the atmospheres of exoplanets, but the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be able to pick targets identified by TESS and look at them in more detail. With a planned launch date in 2021, JWST will be the successor to the famous Hubble telescope. In addition to observing the first stars to form in our universe, JWST will also characterize the atmospheres of promising exoplanets like GJ 357 d. Using its infrared telescope, JWST will be able to observe what light filters through an exoplanet's atmosphere (if it has one), and then researchers can extrapolate what its atmosphere is made of. With luck, GJ 357 d's atmosphere will be similar to Earth's, meaning that life can thrive on the planet.
Signs of alien life?
If GJ 357 d does indeed have an atmosphere, then it may have a shot at hosting life. Kaltenegger and her team modeled a variety of potential atmospheres, such as those with and without oxygen and the kinds of atmospheres one would see on a rocky planet or a water world. In particular, if GJ 357 d has geological activity like volcanism, then its atmosphere will have more C02. Here on Earth, our C02 levels are a bit of a problem, but on other planets, it could increase the temperature enough to ensure that running water flows across the planet's surface.
Now that TESS has identified GJ 357 d as a possible candidate for possessing an atmosphere and hosting life, JWST will be able to examine the planet in greater detail once it's launched. If it confirms that GJ 357 d has an atmosphere capable of hosting life, it's possible that JWST will also be able to identify signs of that life. On Earth, the cumulative effect of life has an impact on our planet's atmosphere — JWST will be sensitive enough to search for similar biosignatures in the atmosphere of an alien planet, adding more evidence to the case for extraterrestrial life. But in the vastness of the universe, the first step lies in knowing where to look, and TESS has just given us a very excellent candidate.
Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.
- Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
- Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
- "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Scientists make an important discovery for the future of computing.
- Researchers find a new state of matter called "topological superconductivity".
- The state can lead to important advancements in quantum computing.
- Utilizing special particles that emerge during this state can lead to error-free data storage and blazing calculation speed.
Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.
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- The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
- While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
As tempting as it may be to run away from emotionally-difficult situations, it's important we confront them head-on.
- Impossible-sounding things are possible in hospitals — however, there are times when we hit dead ends. In these moments, it's important to not run away, but to confront what's happening head-on.
- For a lot of us, one of the ways to give meaning to terrible moments is to see what you can learn from them.
- Sometimes certain information can "flood" us in ways that aren't helpful, and it's important to figure out what types of data you are able to take in — process — at certain times.