Three new planets found outside our solar system orbiting star just 73 light years away

Rob Waugh
Contributor
Three new planets have been found orbiting a distant star (NASA)

Three strange new worlds have been spotted orbiting a star 73 light years away from Earth - and are among the smallest and nearest exoplanets spotted so far.

One of the planets appears to be a mysterious ‘missing link’ unlike anything in our solar system.

The new worlds were spotted by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which was sent into space in 2018 with the aim of finding new worlds around neighbouring stars that could support life.

One of the trio is a rocky super-Earth (like our planet, but slightly bigger), and two gassy planets like Neptune, but smaller (and about twice the size of Earth).

Sadly, scientists are doubtful whether they could support life - but think there may be other planets in the same system.

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While it is believed that the temperature range at the very top of the furthest planet could support some forms of life, the atmosphere itself is thought to be too thick and dense, creating an intense greenhouse effect.

The discovery, published in Nature Astronomy, also has researchers curious about a type of 'missing link' planet we don't have in our own solar system.

TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

Here we have small rocky planets such as Earth, Mercury, Venus, and Mars or much larger gas-dominated planets like Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune, but nothing in the middle.

'TOI-270 will soon allow us to study this 'missing link' between rocky Earth-like planets and gas-dominant mini-Neptunes, because here all of these types formed in the same system,' said lead researcher Maximilian Gunther, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The closest of the three planets - TOI-270 b - takes little over three days to orbit its star, with TOI-270 c taking 5.7 days, and TOI-270 d at 11.4 days.

TESS was launched on April 18 last year and is designed to observe almost the entire sky.

The satellite looks for dips in light that might betray the presence of a planet passing or 'transiting' in front of its host star.

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