NASA say they have discovered two Earth-like planets 49 light-years away using a new telescope – and expect to find more worlds beyond our solar system.
The space agency’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS, was launched five months ago on a £257million ($337m) two-year mission.
Officials say it’s already made an early discovery of two so-called exoplanets – or worlds that circle distant stars – a “super-Earth” and a “hot Earth” planet.
TESS scientist Martin Spill said the “super-Earth” planet, named Pi Mensae c, is 60 light-years away orbiting its sun every 6.3 days.
He said it could have a solid surface or be a water world as the composition of such planets is a mixed bag.
A day later researchers discovered a “hot-Earth” planet, named LHS 3844 b, which is 49 light-years away and orbits its sun every 11 hours.
While the two planets are too hot to support life, TESS Deputy Science Director Sara Seager expects many more such discoveries.
She said: “We will have to wait and see what else TESS discovers.
“We do know that planets are out there, littering the night sky, just waiting to be found.”
The mission is to expand astronomers’ known catalogue of exoplanets.
TESS is designed to build on the work of its predecessor, the Kepler space telescope, which discovered the bulk of some 3,700 exoplanets documented during the past 20 years and is running out of fuel.
NASA expects to pinpoint thousands more previously unknown worlds, perhaps hundreds of them Earth-sized or “super-Earth” sized – no larger than twice as big as our home planet.
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Those are believed the most likely to feature rocky surfaces or oceans and are thus considered the best candidates for life to evolve.
Scientists have said they hope TESS will ultimately help catalogue at least 100 more rocky exoplanets for further study in what has become one of astronomy’s newest fields of exploration.
With four special cameras, TESS uses a detection method called transit photometry, which looks for periodic dips in the visible light of stars caused by planets passing, or transiting, in front of them.
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