How the catalog of potentially habitable exoplanets was made

How the catalog of potentially habitable exoplanets was made
How the catalog of potentially habitable exoplanets was made

Knowing the mass and radius of exoplanets is essential to understanding their formation and composition (NASA/Daniel Rutter)

The effort to find exoplanets It has borne many fruits in recent times. From Poltergeist, which was the first extrasolar planet detected in 1992 and which orbits a type of neutron star called a pulsar, thousands of worlds were found with peculiar characteristics that help experts understand the evolutionary history and composition of the universe.

Some of them are: 51 Pegasi b, discovered in 1995 and the first exoplanet found to orbit a star. similar to the sun; Kepler-16 b which is located in a star system composed of two stars; WASP-12b, which orbits so close to its star that it is being progressively consumed; 55 Cancri e what is so hot that it is completely covered by lava and could have a secondary atmosphere.

Beyond these findings, focusing our gaze on worlds far from Earth, and external to the solar system, generated the development of several space programs to detect new planets. This is the case of the Space Telescope TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), which has been in operation since 2018. Based on its observations, it was possible to locate around 400 planets.

To know the properties of these new worlds, the program was implemented TESS-Keck Surveywhich allows knowing the mass, radius and density of celestial bodies through radial velocity measurements (KJV). Thanks to this, a group of researchers managed to form a Catalogue which includes the most recent exoplanets, and possible candidates, with defined properties.

For three years, scientists analyzed data from TESS and the WM Keck Observatory to catalog exoplanets and their characteristics (WM KECK OBSERVATORY/ADAM MAKARENKO)

“Relatively few of the exoplanets known so far have as much measurement of mass like radio. The combination of these measurements tells us what the planets might be made of and how they formed,” said Stephen Kane, an astrophysicist at UC Riverside and principal investigator of the TESS-Keck study in a Press release. It is important to know How exoplanets are made upsince it would not only help understand outer space, but also the solar system and the place it occupies in the cosmos.

The TESS, as its English name indicates, uses the transit method to identify exoplanets. This means that it observes “small dips in a star’s brightness caused by a planet in orbit”, as explained by NASA. In this way, you can determine how many celestial bodies make up a system, how often they orbit their star, and what estimated size they are.

However, there is another way to study extrasolar planets that allows us to obtain accurate data on its mass. Its about radial velocity method, which manages to perceive the movement of the stars that is caused by the gravity of the planets in orbit according to their density. Note this stellar wobble thanks to the change in frequency and, therefore, color of light emitted by the star with respect to the observer, a phenomenon known as the Doppler effect. When the star approaches the telescope, its brightness becomes bluesince the wave frequencies are shorter, while when it moves away it takes on a darker color. reddish because the waves lengthen.

Comparison between planetary systems requires that they share basic characteristics, such as G-type stars similar to the Sun (NASA/Daniel Rutter)

During three yearsthe group of scientists analyzed the TESS data and those obtained from the WM Keck Observatory in Maunakea, Hawaii to make a catalog that includes not only the planets, but also their size and mass characteristics. “They analyzed more than 13,000 measurements of radial velocity (RV) to calculate the masses of 120 planets confirmed, plus six candidate planets, spread across the northern sky,” they commented from UC Riverside.

In the detailed list of exoplanets there are both peculiar with extreme and unimaginable conditions, as well as others that would be potential hosts for extraterrestrial life. Additionally, NASA also has a Catalogue which is updated daily thanks to input from researchers, and offers illustrative visualizations and data of planetary systems, individual planets and stars.

The importance of the results of mass and densities of exoplanets are relevant to understanding the universe and, more specifically, the Solar systemits evolution and conformation, in addition to determining whether the probability of its existence is high or low.

The radial velocity method detects exoplanets through stellar wobble caused by their gravity. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This means that, when relating one system to another, they must share basic characteristics to make your comparison useful. An essential property is that they maintain at their center the same type of star, in this case a G-type similar to the Sun in size and brightness. It would be ineffective to compare the solar system with a group of planets that are orbiting, for example, a red giant of greater mass, but lower temperature. The conditions of living areaamount of radiation present, temperature and gravity exerted change radically due to the difference between stars.

On the other hand, the system diversity It is also evident from the sizes of the planets that compose them. “Planets smaller than Neptune, but larger than Earth, are the most predominant worlds in our galaxy, but They are absent of our own solar system. Every time a new one is discovered, we remember how diverse is our Universe and that our existence in the cosmos may be more unique than we can understand,” Daria explained. Pidhorodetska, author of a paper describing a world half the size of Neptune orbiting its star in just 19 days.

UC Riverside also highlights, for example, the importance of finding planets. “sub-Saturn”which have a size and mass between those of Neptune and Saturn, orbiting a star similar to the Sun. One of them is TOI-1386b, recently found, which completes an orbit around its star in 26 days. In the same system there is another planet with a greater mass, TOI-1386 c, which takes 227 days to orbit the star. “There is an ongoing debate about whether the sub-Saturn planets are really weird or if we’re just bad at finding planets like these,” said scientist Michelle Hill.

These discoveries show that there are still many questions to be answered regarding what common or extraordinary what could be the solar system and, therefore, the existence of life as we know it.

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