NASA’s TESS space telescope has spotted a new super-Earth to add to the rapidly growing list of exoplanets. We now know that more than five thousand planets orbit stars outside our own solar system, and this rocky planet can now be added to that list.
Rocky super-Earth orbits a red dwarf star
The latest discovery was named TOI-715 b and orbits a red dwarf, a star that is smaller and cooler than our Sun. This allows the small, rocky planet to move a lot closer to the star and still be in the habitable zone.
The habitable zone is the orbit around a star where the temperature is just right to support life. It is not too hot, but not too cold, so in theory liquid water could exist on the planet. Whether there is indeed water on TOI-715 b must be determined by further research. But the fact that the exoplanet is located in the habitable zone of its star is already promising.
Signs of life on a super-Earth?
Furthermore, TOI-715 b appears to be a so-called super-Earth: a relatively small, rocky planet that is only slightly larger than Earth and therefore has similarities with our home planet. According to NASA, super-Earths currently offer the best chance of finding habitable conditions.
An additional advantage is that TOI-715 b is easy to observe because it orbits so closely around its star. What’s up with that? The super-Earth orbits its star every nineteen days, making it often visible. We don’t have to wait an entire Earth year of 365 days before this newly discovered planet comes back into our field of view.
A space journey to this super-Earth is still a distant prospect. TOI-715 b is located 137 light-years away. This is relatively close by cosmic standards, but the planet is still much further away than, for example, Proxima Centauri b, an exoplanet that orbits in the star system Alpha Centauri, four light years away.
Willeke van Doorn studied journalism, traveled the world for a while and eventually ended up at the editorial offices of Quest, National Geographic and Runner’s World via the United States, Australia and New Zealand. She is curious about the world, prefers to travel every month and always takes her running shoes with her.