Universe  ID: 13496

TESS Mission’s First Earth-size World in Star’s Habitable-zone

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has discovered its first Earth-size planet in its star’s habitable zone, the range of distances where conditions may be just right to allow the presence of liquid water on the surface. Scientists confirmed the find, called TOI 700 d, using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and have modeled the planet’s potential environments to help inform future observations.

TOI 700 is a small, cool M dwarf star located just over 100 light-years away in the southern constellation Dorado. It’s roughly 40% of the Sun’s mass and size and about half its surface temperature. The star appears in 11 of the 13 sectors TESS observed during the mission’s first year, and scientists caught multiple transits by its three planets.

The innermost planet, called TOI 700 b, is almost exactly Earth-size, is probably rocky and completes an orbit every 10 days. The middle planet, TOI 700 c, is 2.6 times larger than Earth — between the sizes of Earth and Neptune — orbits every 16 days and is likely a gas-dominated world. TOI 700 d, the outermost known planet in the system and the only one in the habitable zone, measures 20% larger than Earth, orbits every 37 days and receives from its star 86% of the energy that the Sun provides to Earth. All of the planets are thought to be tidally locked to their star, which means they rotate once per orbit so that one side is constantly bathed in daylight.

The Spitzer data increased scientists’ confidence that TOI 700 d is a real planet and sharpened their measurements of its orbital period by 56% and its size by 38%. It also ruled out other possible astrophysical causes of the transit signal, such as the presence of a smaller, dimmer companion star in the system.

While the exact conditions on TOI 700 d are unknown, scientists used current information, like the planet’s size and the type of star it orbits, and modeled 20 potential environments for TOI 700 d to gauge if any version would result in surface temperatures and pressures suitable for habitability.

One simulation included an ocean-covered TOI 700 d with a dense, carbon-dioxide-dominated atmosphere similar to what scientists suspect surrounded Mars when it was young. The model atmosphere contains a deep layer of clouds on the star-facing side. Another model depicts TOI 700 d as a cloudless, all-land version of modern Earth, where winds flow away from the night side of the planet and converge on the point directly facing the star.

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Scott Wiessinger (USRA): Lead Producer
Chris Smith (USRA): Lead Animator
Jeanette Kazmierczak (University of Maryland College Park): Lead Science Writer
Gabrielle Engelmann-Suissa (USRA): Scientist
Barb Mattson (University of Maryland College Park): Narrator
Geronimo Villanueva (Catholic University of America): Visualizer
Francis Reddy (University of Maryland College Park): Science Writer
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. However, individual items should be credited as indicated above.