The universe is full of stars that live in pairs, and that could translate to double trouble for researchers who are looking for Earth-like planets.
A team conducted by Katie Lester, a postdoctoral fellow of NASA’s Ames Research Center, recently used ground-based high-res technologies to study points of light analyzed by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission.
The scientists discovered that, upon further inspection, part of the would-be stars in the sample turned out to be binary stellar systems.
Additionally, the researchers discovered that the stellar pairs might hide Earth-like exoplanets from unwanted eyes of numerous missions similar to TESS.
Rocky planets approximately the size of our own planetary home, maybe somewhere out there, hiding in plain sight. Additionally, they may exist in bigger numbers than previously thought.
TESS finds planets around nearby stars by searching for dips of their light that happen when a planet transits (passes) in front of the star.
TESS was launched in April 2018, and, since then, astronomers have positively confirmed over 100 previously unknown exoplanets, and there are more than 2,600 candidates awaiting confirmation, NASA says.
However, the new study suggests that there could be numerous extra exoplanets in the mission’s observations that went unnoticed by modern means of survey.
“We have shown that it is more difficult to find Earth-size planets in binary systems because small planets get lost in the glare of their two parent stars,” Lester stated.
Lester’s team relied on the Alopeke and Zorro imagers on the twin NOIRLab Gemini Observatory to initially figure out which known exoplanet parent stars were indeed pairs.
They found out that 73 of the hundreds of stars in their sample were stars orbiting close enough to each other to look like a single light source to TESS.