In April 2018, NASA launched its premiere planet exploratory mission, Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) with an aim. The Unites States space agency wanted to create a catalogue of small, rocky planets orbiting around nearby stars and now, TESS is already proving to be a game-changer in the planet-hunting business.
The all-sky survey mission has now stumbled upon a small planet recently, the tiniest one to be discovered to date. L 98-59b, the planet thus found, orbits around a nearby bright star and measures up to the size between Earth and Mars. The tiny tot is not likely to host life as scientists are still dubious as to which gases are present in its atmosphere and whether they have an atmosphere at all.
Back in April this year, TESS had discovered its first Earth-size planet HD 21749, about 53 light years from our planet which was being dubbed as the smallest one in the mission’s one-year hunt. But now, L 98-59b has assumed its position being 10 per cent smaller than HD 21749.
Along with L 98-59b, NASA has also found two other planets in the same system which are 1.4 and 1.6 times the size of Earth. Neither of these planets can support life as they both happen to lie outside their star’s habitable zone.
The dwarf star, like the one tiny planet, is circling around, form three-quarters of the stars in our galaxy. Every such star has a range of distance around them where liquid could exist on a planet’s surface. Scientists believe that learning more about these stars and the planets orbiting them of the likes of L 98-59b can help unlock some underlying secrets about the world that forms around them.
Hopefully NASA plans to revisit these three planets and the others discovered before them with the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor of the legendary Hubble telescope. Once the instrument is launched in 2021, scientists will not only have access to real-time observations from these protoplanetary systems but also, sensitively-captured pictures of these alien planets.