NASA Surprised By 3 New Planets Near Earth That May Support Life

Three new exoplanets have been found just around our solar system. Astronomers using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) said the discovery offers new information that may serve as a "missing link" in planetary formation. 

TESS found the planetary system, called TOI-270, just 73 light years away. It has a small, rocky super-Earth and two sub-Neptunes planets, which one orbits its star within a "temperate" zone, where a planet could support life. 

However, scientists noted the planet's atmosphere may not allow organisms to dwell on the surface. A thick, ultradense heat trap is likely making the ground too hot to host water or life.

But the exoplanets may still provide surprising information. The team said all three planets have closely similar size, which contradicts previous ideas that planets in a single system should have different sizes and composition based on their distance from a star. 

In our solar system, the planets start from small like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, and grow to giants like Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. The team described the discovery in a study published in Nature Astronomy. 

TOI-270 appears different because of the presence of an intermediate size planet. Scientists said the new system could help them better understand planetary formation. 

Studying TOI-270’s planets might help determine if planets follow same formation path like on our solar system during development or they evolve separately.

"There are a lot of little pieces of the puzzle that we can solve with this system," Maximilian Günther, lead study author from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a statement. "You can really do all the things you want to do in exoplanet science, with this system."

Günther said TOI-270’s planets line up “like pearls on a string," a pattern known in astronomy as "resonant chain." Such pattern would help scientists study their dynamical behavior, he added. 

The researchers also expect to detect more planets in the TOI-270 system. Günther said other exoplanets might be just orbiting further from the star and potentially within the habitable zone. 

"The host star, TOI-270, is remarkably well-suited for future habitability searches, as it is particularly quiet," the researchers said. 

The team plans to further study the new planetary system with additional instruments, including the James Webb Space Telescope. Future efforts will focus on analyzing properties of the three planets and finding additional planets around the star.

Exoplanet A hand out image made available by the European Southern Observatory on August 24 2016, shows an artist's impression of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Solar System. A new study suggests that the buildup of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere could indicate the presence of alien life on other planets outside the solar system. M. Kornmesser/AFP/Getty Images

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