Astronomers have discovered a new exoplanet that is slightly larger than Earth and orbits a red dwarf star 66.5 light-years away.
It's a good prospect, scientists think, to help cover our massive information vacuum regarding our Milky Way galaxy's small, rocky planet population.
Since the initial discovery of an exoplanet in 1992, our detection capabilities and understanding of exoplanets has almost exploded. Over 4,100 exoplanets have been confirmed in our galaxy as of this writing, and we now have a far better knowledge of planetary systems and how they develop and evolve.
However, because we're seeking for small, dim, or dark objects that are difficult to view from afar, the vast majority of verified exoplanets are chonkers - ice and gas giants the size of Neptune and larger.
The Kepler and TESS exoplanet-hunting missions have increased the number of detections of smaller exoplanets: those with masses similar to Earth and Venus, and so likely to be rocky rather than gaseous. (This is one of the requirements for life as we know it.) However, these rocky planets are difficult to measure and define, according to an international team led by astronomer Avi Shporer of MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.
This is because we don't typically find them near stars bright enough to allow for comprehensive follow-up examinations.
That’s why the discovery of this new exoplanet is so cool. The team’s paper has been uploaded to arXiv, and is yet to be peer reviewed, but their results are tantalization, to say the least.“Here we present the discovery of GJ 1252 b, a small planet orbiting an M dwarf. The planet was initially discovered as a transiting planet candidate using TESS data,” the researchers write.
“Based on the TESS data and additional follow-up data we are able to reject all false positive scenarios, showing it is a real planet.”
GJ 1252 b is roughly 1.2 times the size of Earth and roughly twice the mass of Earth (so a bit denser than our home planet). It's orbiting a red dwarf star called GJ 1252, which is around 40% the size and mass of the Sun.
The exoplanet orbits its star once every 12.4 hours, which is far too near for habitability and likely tidally locked, with one side always facing the star, but that tight orbit makes it appealing for another reason.
The system is only 66.5 light-years distant, which is close enough for the star to be brilliant enough for the follow-up observations we specified. Furthermore, the red dwarf is exceptionally tranquil for a star of its type, and the planet's frequent orbit means there are plenty of possibilities to see it travelling in front of its host.
This is referred to as a transit, and if the planet has an atmosphere, it will be back-lit by the star's light during transits, potentially allowing astronomers to view what's within it through spectroscopic investigations.
And here's another amazing fact: GJ 1252 b is simply the most recent of several nearby rocky worlds discovered by TESS.
Pi Mensae c and LHS 3844 b were announced in September of last year, respectively; TOI-270b is 73 light-years distant; Teegarden b and Teegarden c are 12.5 light-years away; and Gliese b, Gliese c, and Gliese d are 12 light-years away.
The more of these nearby rocky planets we discover, the more data we can collect on them to determine how common they are and what they are like - whether Earth is a total anomaly, and most rocky planets are barren wastelands like Mercury, Venus, and Mars, or whether they are a more common type of planet in the Milky Way.
Of course, this has ramifications for the quest for extraterrestrial life. But first, more rocky exoplanets must be discovered. GJ 1252 b could be a good place to start. "The proximity and brightness of the host star, as well as the short orbital period, make this star-planet system an appealing candidate for comprehensive characterization," the researchers stated in their report.
"These research involve examining the planet's atmosphere and looking for any currently unknown star, brown dwarf, or giant planet orbiting the host star using future Gaia astrometric data combined with long term radial velocity monitoring."
The study has been submitted to the American Astronomical Society and may be found on arXiv.
You can find more info related to this Earth-Like-Planet here on NASA's official site.