NASA’s new planet hunter just found his 1st alien world — a volatile ‘Super-Earth’

Artist image of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

NASA’s newest planet-hunting mission has reported the detection of the first alien world — a “super-Earth” that is likely to evaporate in the heat of the star, a new study found.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will be launched to orbit the Earth on April 18 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The space telescope is the analysis of a few hundred thousand of the brightest stars in the sun’s neighborhood, looking for small dips in the brightness caused by the passage (or “transit”) of the planets as small as the Earth on the faces of the stars.

The scientists have used TESS data to the discovery of a new planet around the star Pi Mensae, also known as HD 39091, which is located around 59.5 light-years from Earth in the constellation Mensa, the table. Pi Mensae is a yellow dwarf star like the sun and the second brightest among the stars known transit of exoplanets. [NASA’s TESS Exoplanet-Hunting Mission in Photos]

Previous research had already spotted a gas giant around Pi Mensae which is about 10 times more mass than Jupiter. This exoplanet, named Pi Mensae b has a very oval-shaped “eccentric” orbit, which carries up to 3 astronomical units (AE) nfrom his star. (An au is the average distance between the Earth and the sun, about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers.)

More Of

  • TESS

  • NASA’s TESS Exoplanet-Hunting Mission in Photos

  • Super-Earths

  • Kepler space telescope

Now, scientists have discovered a new world around Pi Mensae — one about 2.14 times the Earth diameter and 4.82 times the mass of earth. This super-Earth, h is called Pi Mensae c, orbits about 0.07 AU from the star, or more than 50 times closer than Mercury is to the sun. (As the name implies, Super-Earths are planets that are slightly larger than our own, the inns of about 2 to 10 Earth masses.)

Pi Mensae c is a super-Earth, a class of planets that are slightly larger and more massive than our own world.

The density of Pi Mensae c is consistent with a picture where “the entire planet is made of water,” study lead author Chelsea Huang, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told However, “it is probably a rocky core and an extensive atmosphere made of hydrogen and helium,” she said. “We also think that this planet could evaporate now, given the intense radiation from the star.”

Future research can investigate the odd configuration of Pi Mensae the two known planets. The oval orbit of Jupiter-like Pi Mensae b is in stark contrast with the circular orbit of Jupiter. This suggests that “something must have happened in the history of this planetary system to excite the orbit of the distant Jupiter-like planet,” Huang said. “If that is the case, how is the inner system survive? These questions need further research, and the understanding of them tells us much of the planet-the formation of a theory.”

TESS follows in the footsteps of NASA’s iconic Kepler space telescope, which has discovered that approximately 70 percent of the 3,800 known exoplanets to date, with the help of the transit method. TESS will exceed Kepler’s exoplanet haul if everything goes according to plan, TESS-team members have said.

The scientists detailed their findings online Sept. 16 in a paper submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters. You can read it on the online preprint site

Originally published on

Recent posts

Follow us

Don't be shy, get in touch. We love meeting interesting people and making new friends.

Most popular