Exoplanets

By Amelia Wignall

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Exoplanets

Amelia Wignall, Journalist, Editing Board Member

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On August 7th, NASA’s satellite TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) captured a picture of an exoplanet 60 light-years away from earth. This exoplanet is called Pi Men c.

An exoplanet is a planet that orbits a star outside our solar system. There have been 3,779 exoplanets confirmed, two-thirds of them confirmed by NASA. The sky has approximately 400 billion stars and each of those probably has at least one exoplanet. The youngest exoplanet we have ever found is 1 million years old and is 420 light-years away.  

An exoplanet has a number of qualities: Size, temperature, moons, rings, gas, rocky etc. Exoplanets close to our Solar System have been studied before, but this one has just been discovered, so it is currently being examined. Exoplanets can be studied through advanced telescopes (but this only works for exoplanets close to earth) or by satellite. For a telescope to work, the planet must be less than Satellite is the more common method. It takes pictures of the planet and sends them to Earth. We can then study them from here. This exoplanet is in one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies (a galaxy that orbits the Milky Way).

TESS is a satellite purely for finding and exploring exoplanets. It launched this April and can observe 100,000 stars per year looking for exoplanets. TESS is the first air-borne telescope for looking at exoplanets. It can identify all different types of planets, from gas giants to rocky. Tess finds exoplanets by looking for a temporary decrease in brightness in stars. This decrease in brightness is likely caused by planetary transits.  

Pi Men c’s radius is around 2 times the radius of Earth’s and it orbits its sun every 6.27 days. This new exoplanet is important because based on its mass and its pull of gravity, we can tell that there is water on it. This means that something could be living on it and scientists want to know if this is possible. The exoplanet’s core is most likely made up of iron and rock and water covers the whole surface.  

I think studying exoplanets is important because we want to know what is in our universe. We know so little about things outside of our world and we want to know what could possibly be out there. Studying exoplanets is important because we can learn both more about our earth and what is in our universe. 

Some scientists are looking for water on exoplanets to determine if they are habitable or not, but I think that if there would be a habitable planet, it might not have water because the aliens might not need the same things we do. Water is strong evidence of life, so I think it is important that scientists continue to look for water, but they should also look for other things. 

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969.” -Neil Armstrong. That was the first step in space discovery. I think that it is important that we continue to look for exoplanets so we can travel to them and discover more.