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TOI-244 b: Astronomers Discover New Low-Density “Super-Earth” Exoplanet

An illustration of a super earth

NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has led to the discovery of a new low-density exoplanet.

An international team of astronomers has detected a new “super-Earth” exoplanet named TOI-244 b. This alien world exhibits a remarkably low density, as reported in a paper published on the arXiv preprint server on May 8. Super-Earths are a type of exoplanet with a mass higher than Earth’s but significantly less than that of our solar system’s gas giants like Uranus and Neptune. They occupy a size category not seen in our solar system, with masses typically between one and ten times that of Earth.

Why Super-Earths are interesting

Super-Earths are intriguing to scientists because they may have conditions suitable for life, especially if they exist in their star’s habitable zone, where temperatures could allow for liquid water. They can be composed of various materials, including rock, water, and gas, often with a substantial atmosphere, but the exact composition will depend on the specifics of the individual planet.

NASA’s TESS: A Beacon of Alien World Discovery

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission is an ambitious project dedicated to discovering new exoplanets around the brightest stars. Launched in April 2018, TESS uses the transit method to identify exoplanets, which involves detecting the slight dimming of a star as a planet passes in front of it. The spacecraft’s four wide-field cameras cover a 360-degree view of the sky, monitoring over 200,000 stars to identify terrestrial planets in their star’s habitable zone.

Beyond its core mission, TESS also provides astronomers with a wealth of data for further study of various celestial phenomena, contributing significantly to our understanding of the universe. It has already identified close to 6,600 potential exoplanets, with 331 confirmed.

Unveiling TOI-244 b: A Product of International Collaboration

Astronomer Amadeo Castro-González, from the Spanish Astrobiology Center, and his team confirmed the latest discovery. A transit signal detected in the light curve of TOI-244 led to the revelation of this exoplanet, with its nature verified by radial velocity measurements.

The Detection and Confirmation Process

“An intensive radial velocity campaign with ESPRESSO helped confirm the planetary nature of the transit signal detected from TESS data,” wrote the researchers.

Insights into TOI-244 b: A New “Super-Earth”

The study suggests TOI-244 b has a radius of 1.52 Earth radii and a mass of around 2.68 Earth masses, resulting in an unusual density of 4.2 g/cm3. This “super-Earth” orbits its host star every 7.4 days, at a distance of roughly 0.056 AU, with an estimated equilibrium temperature of 458 K.

Delving Deeper into Super-Earths

The term “super-Earth” describes planets that are larger than Earth but smaller than “mini-Neptunes.” Despite this, TOI-244 b appears less dense than most super-Earths, which leads to assumptions about its unique composition.

A Glimpse into the Composition of TOI-244 b

According to the researchers, TOI-244 b could be composed of iron and silicates, similar to Earth. The low density could be attributed to a significant number of volatile elements.

The Future of TOI-244 b Studies

The scientists concluded that the planet could retain high mean molecular weight volatiles like water. Due to its unusual properties and possible extended atmosphere, TOI-244 b provides an intriguing target for future atmospheric studies.

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