A team of researchers harnessed the power of a sophisticated spacecraft in an attempt to find more extrasolar planets. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is an advanced spacecraft explicitly built for the search of exoplanets, and a new milestone has been reached.
NASA’s TESS tracked down a system which features a planet trio, located at almost 35 light-years away from Earth. One of the planets, which has been classified under the name of L 98-59b, is the smallest exoplanet ever found, sized between Earth and Mars.
The discovery was made by a team of international researchers which included NASA employees and scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, and a large number of observatories and universities spread across the world.
The lead researchers noted that the discovery is a significant milestone for TESS. Small planets are quite challenging to detect, and in most cases, they have to follow a low orbit around bright stars. The new system paves the way for valuable research in the future.
NASA’s TESS Discovers The Smallest Exoplanet Ever
As the name may infer TESS employs a method called Transit Photometry. The spacecraft will monitor distant stars in an attempt to observe unexpected dips in illumination, which may suggest that a planet is passing in front of the stars.
Researchers can take data like the frequency and value of the dip to find real planets and estimate traits like orbital period and size.
At this point, this is the best method for the detection and confirmation of exoplanets, as it was used for the discovery of over 3000 planets out of the 4000 which have been found.
One drawback was the fact that it was not particularly suitable for finding small planets. More data about the three planets is available in a recently published scientific paper.