by Katrina Hapner, contributing writer for Telegraph Local
Astronomers have just announced that a new neighbor to our solar system has recently been found. It is a new exoplanet, slightly bigger than Earth that is orbiting a red dwarf star 66.5 light years away. Scientists are especially excited about this due to its close proximity because that makes it much easier to study. Our ability to detect exoplanets has increased dramatically since the first one was found in 1992, to include over 4,100 new exoplanets. It gives astronomers a much more detailed understanding of planetary systems and how they form.
In the past most of these exoplanets have been made up of ice or gas the size of Neptune and bigger. However, the Kepler space hunting telescope and NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in 2018 using the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, have made it possible to detect smaller exoplanets. We can now detect exoplanets the size of Earth or Venus, and ones that are more rocky instead of gaseous or formed of ice.
Now, it has been announced that astronomers have found not just one Earth-sized exoplanet, but two of these right next door, and even more exciting is the possibility that these could be habitable. These exoplanets exist within their star’s “habitable zone” as termed by scientists. This “habitable zone” is any region of a star where it is not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to be able to exist on a planet. Just like on Earth, where there is water there is also life. If any of these planets are discovered to have water, they could then also contain life. Though this is pure speculation at this point, as astronomers are not even sure yet if they even have an atmosphere, it is exciting to think about the possibilities.
The red dwarf star called Teegarden is located 12.5 light years away, but is very small and dim, and only about 10 percent the mass of our sun. Teegarden’s “habitable zone” is therefore very small and so any exoplanet orbiting it must orbit very close in order for the planet to be warm enough for life. Both exoplanets resemble in the inner planets in our own solar system, according to Mathias Zechmeister from the Institute for Astrophysics at the University of Gottingen. Mr. Zechmeister was the lead author of the report published in the Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and he also stated that these two newly discovered exoplanets are “only slightly heavier than Earth and are located in the so-called habitable zone, where water can be present in liquid form.”
Teegarden B as one is named, is most likely to have a surface environment conducive with life, calculated at a 60 percent chance with temperatures ranging from 0-50 degrees. It is only 5 percent bigger than Earth, but circles it’s star in only 5 days. There have been other exoplanets discovered farther away that hold potential as well, however because of Teegarden’s proximity, the newest generation of telescopes will be able to gain greater detail of it, possibly discovering if it contains an atmosphere and whether it contains any biological evidence of habitation.