Space Update – The Solar Orbiter’s first milestone and a newly discovered habitable planet candidate

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An artist’s depiction of the joint NASA-European Space Agency Solar Orbiter at work studying the sun.
(Image: © ESA/Medialab)

The Solar Orbiter, a joint mission by NASA and the European Space Agency, has completed its first fly-by of the sun.

The Orbiter is seeking close-up views of the Sun’s North and South poles. It is equipped with 6 telescopes that can directly image the sun. These telescopes will capture close-up images of the sun simultaneously for the first time. According to ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project Scientist Daniel Müller, the images, to be released in mid-July, will be the closest images of the sun ever captured.

It also has another 4 instruments that operate like a mobile laboratory. They will measure the magnetic fields and solar eruptions in the polar regions. They will also track the progression of eruptions on the sun from the surface out into space, and all the way down to Earth.

To find another planet like Earth, astronomers are focusing on the ‘habitable zone’ around stars–where it’s not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to exist on the surface.

Scientists have found a likely habitable exoplanet that is similar to Earth, and orbits a star similar to our Sun.

The exoplanet candidate is named KOI-456.04 was found 3000 light years away. The discovery was made in a nearby solar system and is said to be the most similar planet-star pair to our own planet and sun pair! How is that you might ask?

  1. The planet candidate is less than double the size of Earth unlike many of the other exoplanets that have been similar in size to Neptune (4 times Earth’s size).
  2. It is also unique because it orbits a sweet spot around its dim star known as the habitable zone where temperatures are just right for liquid water to exist on a planet’s surface.
  3. The star it orbits is about the size of the sun and emits visible light. Previously discovered Earth-sized planets known to have potentially Earth-like surface temperatures are in orbit around dim stars, which do not emit visible light but harmful infra-red radiation instead!

That means this planet checks some of the important criteria in an astronomer’s laundry list of what’s necessary to support life. Though these findings are big, scientist will wait for other telescopes to confirm KOI-465.04’s presence before they add it to the  4000 other known exoplanets outside our Solar System.

 

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