"TESS Virtual Map" by NASA / Public Domain

NASA exoplanet hunter racks up bizarre worlds and exploding stars

Jan 8, 2019

By Alexandra Witze

Just nine months after its launch, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has found at least eight planets, with more than 300 planetary candidates waiting in the wings.

A bizarre planet at least 23 times the mass of Earth, unveiled on 7 January, is among the confirmed planets — some of which have been reported before.

The newly described planet whizzes around its star on a stretched-out orbit once every 36 days, says Xu Chelsea Huang, a TESS scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. Even stranger, there are hints that another planet not much bigger than Earth is orbiting closer to the star.

How a small inner planet stays on that path as a bigger planet lurches on an elliptical orbit around the same star is a mystery. “This is the most extreme system with this type of architecture,” Huang says. “We don’t know how that could form.” The star is known as HD 21749 and lies 16 parsecs (53 light years) from Earth in the constellation Reticulum.

Huang reported the findings at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington.

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