Less than two months after NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) started its science operations, astronomers have detected two brand-new exoplanet candidates in the data sent back from the space observatory.
In a tweeted statement from NASA, MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager, a leader of the mission said: “The team is excited about what TESS might discover next. We do know that planets are out there, littering the night sky, just waiting to be found.”
Both exoplanets are still candidates, which means astronomers have yet to confirm their existance—but experts are already actively vetting the preliminary results.
The first exoplanet candidate was announced on September 19 and orbits a star called Pi Mensae, 60 light years away from Earth. It orbits its star every 6.3 days, and seems to have a density similar to water. It’s not the only planet around its star either:
Fun notes for @NASA_TESS 1st planet candidate: Pi Mensae star is visible in the night sky, the planet’s mass & radius show a water-like density (infers water / gases), and it’s the system’s 2nd known planet (the other has 10x Jupiter’s mass & orbits every 5.7 years). @TESSatMIT pic.twitter.com/tltNHbjDNb— NASA_TESS (@NASA_TESS) September 20, 2018
The second planet candidate is closer to Earth, at just 49 light years away. This potentially Earth-sized world is also circling its star at a more breakneck speed, making a full orbit in just 11 hours.
TESS operates in a one-of-a-kind orbit around Earth, tracing an oval every 13 days that’s 232,000 miles away at its farthest point, and 67,000 miles away at its closest. During two years of these orbits, it will examine 400 times more of the night sky than any previous mission. In addition to potential exoplanets, it’s also already spotted a comet and an assortment of asteroids.
TESS is the successor to the Kepler Space Telescope, which has discovered over 2,000 confirmed exoplanets over the course of two missions, Kepler and K2. That telescope is now running low on fuel and reaching the end of its natural life. TESS will continue Kepler’s work, focusing on stars closer to home, and researchers expect it will find as many as 20,000 exoplanets before its time runs out.
Two worlds down, so many more to go.