NASA Announces New 'Super Earth': Exoplanet Orbits in 'Habitable Zone', 137 Light Years Away

The exoplanet, TOI-715 b, is one and a half times the width of Earth.

Could a recently discovered “super-Earth” have the temperatures and conditions possible to sustain life?

The new exoplanet is located “closer to us” — 137 light-years away — and orbits “well within the habitable zone.” NASA.

Astronomers say the planet, named TOI-715 b, is one and a half times the width of Earth and orbits a small red star. The same system also contains a second, Earth-sized planet that, if confirmed, would make it “the smallest habitable-zone planet discovered by TESS. [the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite] So far,” NASA said in a Jan. 31 press release.

Because the super-Earth is far from its parent star, it may be in a conservative “habitable zone” and have the right temperature for liquid water to form on its surface, which is essential to sustain life, the agency said. “Certainly many other factors must be in line,” he said.

Measurements of the habitable zone — a “narrower and tighter definition than the broad 'hopeful' habitable zone” — put the newly discovered planet, a small Earth-sized planet, “in prime position.” Its parent star.

Because of the super-Earth's short distance in orbit from its parent star, a red dwarf smaller and cooler than our Earth's Sun, the planet's “year” is equal to 19 Earth days, the agency said.

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Tighter orbits mean “planets can be more easily detected and observed more often,” NASA said.

Since its launch in 2018, TESS has added to astronomers' inventory of habitable-zone exoplanets, such as TOI-715 b, which can be studied more closely by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, the agency said.

The Webb telescope is designed not only to detect exoplanets, but also to “probe the composition of their atmospheres, which may provide clues to the possible existence of life,” NASA said.

The super-Earth research and discovery was led by Georgina Transfield at the University of Birmingham in England and was published in January in the journal “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.”

The findings are another step forward in astronomers' work to understand what atmospheric conditions are needed to sustain life and further explore the properties of exoplanets beyond our solar system, NASA said.

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