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Carl Sagan Institute

In hunt for life, astronomers identify most promising stars

26 Mar 2019, 17:26 UTC
In hunt for life, astronomers identify most promising stars

ITHACA, N.Y. – NASA’s new Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is designed to ferret out habitable exoplanets, but with hundreds of thousands of sunlike and smaller stars in its camera views, which of those stars could host planets like our own?

A team of astronomers from Cornell, Lehigh University and Vanderbilt
University has identified the most promising targets for this search in
the new “TESS Habitable Zone Star Catalog,” published March 26 in Astrophysical Journal Letters. Lead author Lisa Kaltenegger,
professor of astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences and director
of Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute, is a member of the TESS science
team. 

The catalog identifies 1,822 stars for which TESS is sensitive enough
to spot Earth-like planets just a bit larger than Earth that receive
radiation from their star equivalent to what Earth receives from our
sun. For 408 stars, TESS can glimpse a planet just as small as Earth,
with similar irradiation, in one transit alone.

“Life could exist on all sorts of worlds, but the kind we know can support life is our own, so it makes sense to first look for Earth-like planets,” Kaltenegger said. “This catalog tells us around which stars we can find the closest Earth-analogs with TESS.” “I now have 408 new favorite stars,” said Kaltenegger. “And if you have good binoculars, you can see some of them from your backyard on a dark night.”

Kaltenegger leads a program on TESS that is observing the catalog’s 1,822 stars in detail, looking for planets. the catalog is available online as is the TESS data. “I hope a lot of people are going to use this catalog to make sure we’ll find all the Earth-like planets with TESS – and also all the other planets in those systems – so we can fully see the diversity of planetary systems and how ours fits in.”

In
addition to Kaltenegger, Joshua Pepper of Lehigh University and Keivan Stassun
and Ryan Oelkers of Vanderbilt University contributed to the catalog, which
draws from one originally developed at Vanderbilt that contains hundreds of
millions of stars.

“This is a remarkable time in human history and a huge leap for our understanding of our place in the universe,” said Stassun, a member of the TESS science team.

by Linda Glaeser and Lisa KalteneggerFor additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

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