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NASA Sees New Worlds in a "River of Stars"

These distant "Outworlds" are recent space exploration discoveries



Using observations from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), an international team of astronomers has discovered a trio of hot worlds larger than Earth orbiting a much younger version of our Sun called TOI 451. The system resides in the recently discovered Pisces-Eridanus stream, a collection of stars less than 3% the age of our solar system that stretches across one-third of the sky.


The planets were discovered in TESS images taken between October and December 2018. Follow-up studies of TOI 451 and its planets included observations made in 2019 and 2020 using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which has since been retired, as well as many ground-based facilities. Archival infrared data from NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) satellite – collected between 2009 and 2011 under its previous moniker, WISE – suggests the system retains a cool disk of dust and rocky debris. Other observations show that TOI 451 likely has two distant stellar companions circling each other far beyond the planets.


“This system checks a lot of boxes for astronomers,” said Elisabeth Newton, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, who led the research. “It’s only 120 million years old and just 400 light-years away, allowing detailed observations of this young planetary system. And because there are three planets between two and four times Earth’s size, they make especially promising targets for testing theories about how planetary atmospheres evolve.”


A paper reporting the findings was published on Jan. 14 in The Astronomical Journal and is available online.


Stellar streams form when the gravity of our Milky Way galaxy tears apart star clusters or dwarf galaxies. The individual stars move out along the cluster’s original orbit, forming an elongated group that gradually disperses.


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