TESS Planet Hunter Gifts NASA Two New Exoplanets

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has shared its first observations with NASA, revealing the existence of two exoplanets previously unknown to researchers. The satellite was launched in April with the mission to find new planets, something it has already achieved with more sure to come. In addition to the two exoplanets, TESS found at least 73 stars that could have nearby exoplanets.

TESS is designed to capture large images of the sky, searching out bright stars as places where exoplanets are more likely to be discovered. According to NASA, the satellite will spend the next couple of years watching for occasional dips in the brightness of these stars — that would indicate a transit, which means a planet could be passing in front of the star.

NASA anticipates TESS discovering "thousands" of exoplanets using this method, and it can already cross two off that list: it has discovered one exoplanet about 50 light-years away and another at 60 light-years. The first is an exoplanet orbiting a dwarf star called LHS 3844, and the other is located in the constellation Mensa. The latter orbits a dwarf star named Pi Mensae.

The exoplanet circling Pi Mensae is a super-Earth, one too hot to support life like the kind found on Earth. As well, this planet has nearly five times the mass of our own planet and more than double the radius. Early evidence suggests this exoplanet is an ocean world with an atmosphere full of water vapor.

As for the other planet, it is described as a bit larger than Earth with an orbit around its star that takes a mere 11 hours. Given that very close orbit, the planet has an incredibly high heat, far too hot for it to be habitable. TESS continues its mission to search for more planets.