The work of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is simply surreal. Imagine traveling a thousand years back in time and then explaining to someone how future scientists will have a machine that detects alien worlds floating at distances beyond the capacity of human imagination.
Since 2018, this space instrument has literally found thousands of exoplanets. We have eyes on one shaped like a rugby ball, another that appears to be covered in oceans of lava, and even an orb that rains down glass – off to the side.
On Wednesday, international scientists announced that one of these alien realms, dutifully hunted by TESS, may be covered with a blanket of the elixir of life: water.
I’m not sure about you, but I have flashbacks to that scene in Interstellar where Cooper lands on a world with skyscraper-sized waves.
This possible ‘ocean world’, according to the team’s study, published this month in The Astronomical Journal, lives about 100 light-years from Earth, orbiting in a binary star system nestled in the constellation Draco. . Named TOI-1452 b, it is believed to be around 70% larger than our planet, to be about five times more massive, to rotate at the rate of seven Earth days and to be neither too hot nor too cold. for liquid water. exist on its surface.
But more importantly, its density appears to be consistent with an incredibly deep ocean – either that, or it’s a huge rock with little or no atmosphere or potentially an atmosphere built with hydrogen and helium, according to NASA.
“TOI-1452 b is one of the best candidates for an ocean planet that we have found to date,” said Charles Cadieux, lead author of the study, a doctoral student at the University of Montreal and a member of the University Institute for Research on Exoplanets. said in a statement Wednesday. “Its radius and mass suggest a much lower density than would be expected for a planet composed mostly of metal and rock, like Earth.”
If this assumption is correct – that TOI-1452 b is apt to swoop down on Poseidon’s dreams – it would be similar to places in our own solar system. Enceladus, Saturn’s bright and frigid moon, is thought to harbor a global ocean of salty water below the surface under a shield of ice. And Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s bright companions and the largest moon in our cosmic neighborhood, has its own frozen watery expanse.
Looks like a job for the Webb Space Telescope
Although exoplanet discoveries have been flooding in recent years, there’s an added level of thrill when scientists find one today.
That’s because we now have the James Webb Space Telescope, another incredible machine that sits a million miles from Earth and decodes the secrets of the universe – cosmic data hidden under the guise of infrared light.
“And, luckily,” says the TOI-1452 b press release, “it’s located in a region of the sky that the telescope can observe year-round.”
“Our observations with the Webb telescope will be essential to better understand TOI-1452 b,” said René Doyon, director of iREx at the University of Montreal, author of the recent study and member of the team behind of one of the major facilities of the JWST, said in the press release. “As soon as we can, we’ll set aside time on Webb to observe this weird and wonderful world.”
With JWST, Doyon and his fellow researchers hope to study the atmosphere of this exoplanet in more detail and test whether it really is an impressive world of liquid water. According to the team, it is one of the few known temperate planets that exhibit characteristics consistent with an oceanic planet. This is why it is so tempting to reflect.
Also, the reason TOI-1452 b is expected to have such a cold climate is because the star it orbits in the binary star system is much smaller than our sun and does not don’t get lost. too away from the planet of interest. This ball of gas is at a distance from its partner star equal to about two and a half times the distance between the sun and Pluto, according to the authors of the study.
And fascinatingly enough, this whole situation was complex enough that TESS needed support to write the story of TOI-1452 b. The researchers had to rely on a few other high-tech instruments – which would also blow our hypothetical ancient audience – such as the PESTO camera at the Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic. This device specializes in the red part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
“WMO played a crucial role in confirming the nature of this signal and in estimating the radius of the planet,” Cadieux said. “This was not a routine check. We had to make sure that the signal detected by TESS was indeed caused by an exoplanet circling TOI-1452, the larger of the two stars in this binary system.”
JWST, let this (water) world be your oyster.
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