Astronomy Exoplanets

Astronomers mining an increasingly rich trove of TESS exoplanet data

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As reported in Astronomy Now, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite has now identified more than 5,000 possible exoplanet candidates – TESS Objects of Interest, or TOIs – mostly from a faint star search led by Michelle Kunimo, a postdoc at MIT. While TOIs are, by definition, unconfirmed, astronomers are confident additional observations will add to TESS’s list of known exoplanets.

“This time last year, TESS had found just over 2,400 TOIs. Today, TESS has reached more than twice that number — a huge testament to the mission and all the teams scouring the data for new planets. I’m excited to see thousands more in the years to come!”

An artist’s impression of a Jupiter-like planet orbiting very close to an evolved, dying star. Three such planets were recently confirmed in data originally collected by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Image: Karen Teramura/University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy

Launched in 2018, TESS is now observing the northern sky and ecliptic plane, including regions previously examined by the Kepler spacecraft during its original and extended K2 missions. The latest batch of TOIs were added in late December.

It will take additional observations by astronomers around the world to confirm whether a TOI is, in fact, an actual exoplanet. Three such confirmations were announced at the American Astronomical Society’s winter meeting earlier this month.

A team led by Samuel Grunblatt, a postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History and the Flatiron Institute in New York City, found three gas giants in TOI data. The planets have some of the shortest-period orbits around subgiant or giant stars yet found and one of them, TOI-2337b, likely will be consumed by its host star in less than a million years.

“These discoveries are crucial to understanding a new frontier in exoplanet studies: how planetary systems evolve over time,” Grunblatt said, adding “these observations offer new windows into planets nearing the end of their lives, before their host stars swallow them up.”

Compared to short orbital period planets around subgiant or giant stars on the verge of being swallowed up by their stars, our solar system shines as an example of a just-right, long-term habitable environment to support life on Earth.

3 Replies to “Astronomers mining an increasingly rich trove of TESS exoplanet data

  1. 1
    jerry says:

    Are any like Earth?

    Can anything be like Earth? The odds are fairly low.

  2. 2
    ET says:

    If they want to find an earth-like planet they need to follow the lead of “the Privileged Planet”. The authors tell us exactly what to look for to find such a place. They even agree that in an Intelligently Designed universe the odds of other beings like us- capable of technology and science- are better. Meaning, most likely we are not alone. But we have to look in the right places. First up is the type of host star. Red dwarves are out. In order to be in the habitable zone of a red dwarf the planet will be in tidal lock. One side of the planet will always face the star and the other will be dark. Not habitable, except for in science-fiction.

  3. 3
    Fasteddious says:

    The TESS trove of planets has interesting statistical properties: heavily weighted to large planets orbiting small starts closely. That is simply due to how TESS works, seeking planets transiting their star in planes that include the Earth. The bigger the planet, and the closer it is to its star, the wider the angle away from its orbital plane where the transits can be seen. And the closer the orbit, the higher the frequency of transits, viewable from a spacecraft that has only been looking for some months. That is why so many of the planets found are gas-giants orbiting close in to their respective stars.
    The TESS astronomers (and UD readers?) doubtless know all this, and can attempt to adjust the statistics accordingly to estimate how many stars overall have planets and how big and far out they might be in general. Nevertheless, from what I’ve read, they have not found any other stellar systems like ours, with distant gas-giants, rocky planets close, but not too close, and stable orbits all around.

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