22:20 GMT06 August 2020
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    According to researchers, the planet is one of a growing list of small planets orbiting nearby star systems discovered by the Transiting Expolanet Survey Satellite, a NASA-operated space telescope launched in April 2018.

    A multinational collective of nearly three dozen scientists hailing from the US, the UK, France, Chile and China have discovered a new exoplanet about 1.2 times the size of Earth, but about double  Earth’s mass, publishing a draft of their findings in scientific article database arXiv.org.

    The planet, dubbed GJ1252 b, orbits a red dwarf star, GJ1252, situated some 20.4 parsecs (about 66.5 light-years or 3,145,692,882,113,000 km) from our Sun. The red star is estimated to have only about 40 percent the size and mass of our Sun.

    Notwithstanding humanity’s growing capacity to find exoplanets, the process can be difficult, given that when when measured against the stars they orbit, these planets are comparably small, dim, and visible to measuring instruments for only a fraction of the time. Even then, it’s more common to discover large planets – like Jupiter or Saturn, rather than comparably tiny ones like Earth, or GJ1252 b.

    The new planet was found thanks to data obtained by the Transiting Expolanet Survey Satellite (TESS), along with “additional follow-up data” which astronomers used to enable them “to reject all false positive scenarios, showing it is a real planet.”

    Scientists estimate that GJ1252 b zips around its Red Dwarf sun once every 12.4 hours (i.e. incredibly fast, given that Earth, for example, zooms around our Sun in 365 day). The researchers also assume that unlike Earth, the exoplanet is tidally locked, meaning one of its sides is always facing its sun.

    Whether or not that’s too hot for life to be able to survive for any length of time on GJ1252 b’s surface is debatable, given that red dwarves typically burn at a lower temperature than that of our sun (3,500 degrees Celsius compared to 5,500 degrees Celsius).

    Still, the exoplanet’s characteristics and its comparatively ‘short’ distance from our solar system means that follow-up observations can be made, especially thanks to its speedy orbit pattern.

    For now though, Proxima Centauri b, a planet orbiting the small, low-mass star Proxima Centauri, remains the closest-known planet from us, at a distance of some 4.244 light-years (1.301 parsecs) from our Sun. Unfortunately, based on current technology, reaching it would take over 81,000 years.

    In any event, the collective’s findings have now been submitted to the American Astronomical Society for peer review.

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