NASA's Newest Planet-Hunting Telescope Has Already Found an Earth-like World

NASA's TESS telescope was only launched a year ago, and is designed to find small Earth-sized exoplanets that may support life.

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Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science

Over the last few years, we’ve discovered so many planets around other stars that we now know that nearly every star has a few. These exoplanets come in all kinds of different types, but the most interesting are the Earth-like ones. A from NASA’s newest planet-hunting telescope suggests it has found its first one.

The most successful tool we’ve ever built to find exoplanets was the Kepler Space Telescope, which operated during the first half of this decade. Kepler managed to discover thousands of planets before shutting down for good last year. At the same time, NASA’s successor to Kepler, the TESS telescope, was launched into orbit.

TESS stands for Transiting Exoplanets Survey Satellite, and features a collection of upgrades that make it even better at finding hidden planets. TESS is capable of spotting very small and faint planets, making it ideal for searching for tiny earth-like worlds. In a recent update, a group of researchers that TESS had found its first one.

The world in question is called HD 21749c, and is one of two new planets discovered in a star system 53 light-years away. While it may be nearly the same size as Earth, there’s little chance it could ever support life, only orbiting a few million miles from its host star. That’s much closer than Mercury is to our own star, meaning that this world is likely extremely hot.

Still, if we can discover this one world it means we can discover other earth-like worlds elsewhere in our galaxy. Perhaps one of those might be earth-like enough to potentially support life.

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