Friday, September 29, 2023

Two Earth-like planets spotted in a nearby multiplanet system

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Astronomers have discovered one of the closest known multiplanet systems to our galaxy. NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite discovered the system about 10 parsecs, or 33 light-years from Earth (TESS). Michelle Kunimoto, a postdoctoral fellow at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at MIT and one of the lead scientists behind the discovery, discovered the system in October 2021 while analyzing TESS data.

A star, HD 260655, at the center of the system has been found to host at least two Earth-like terrestrial planets, adding to astronomers’ intrigue.

Kunimoto observed two periodic drops in brightness emitted by HD 260655. The signals were then categorized as TESS Objects of Interest (TOIs) or possible planets that took advantage of the mission’s scientific inspection trail. Using archival data, the time needed to classify HD 260655 was reduced, despite the fact that such a process can take several years.

Kunimoto found that the High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer (HIRES) also observed the star HD 260655. It is an instrument used as part of the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. In addition, the same star was identified in an independent study conducted by CARMENES, which is part of the Calar Altar Observatory in Spain.

Kunimoto and his team contacted HIRES and CARMENES and merged their respective records. The partnership established the presence of two planets around HD 260655.

“Because of the brilliance of their star, both planets in this system are among the best targets for atmospheric research,” Kunimoto said.

Astronomers concluded that the inner planet HD 260655b orbits the star every 2.8 days and that the outer planet HD 260655c orbits the star every 5.7 days. The inner planet was found to be twice as massive as Earth, while the outer planet was three times as massive.

The team determined, based on the density of the two planets, that they are terrestrial or rocky like Earth. However, the high temperatures of the planets make them unlikely to be habitable. “We consider that range to be outside the habitable zone because it is too hot for liquid water at the surface,” Kunimoto continued.

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