NASA’s TESS, transiting-exoplanet-survey-satellite, while exploring a star named GJ 357 discovered three planets orbiting it one of which, named GJ 357 d, is larger than Earth and may be able to support life.

Located at the outer edge of the star’s habitable zone, GJ 357 d or ‘’Super Earth’’ as it’s been dubbed, is approximately 31 light years from Earth and orbits the star every 55.7 days

Dr Lisa Kaltenegger, who led a study into the planet, said: “This is exciting, as this is humanity’s first nearby super-Earth that could harbor life – uncovered with help from TESS, our small, mighty mission with a huge reach.’’

This diagram from NASA shows the GJ 357 system. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith

“With a thick atmosphere, the planet GJ 357 d could maintain liquid water on its surface like Earth and we could pick out signs of life with upcoming telescopes soon to be online.”

Diana Kossakowski, from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, who co-authored a separate paper for Astronomy & Astrophysics, added: “GJ 357 d is located within the outer edge of its star’s habitable zone, where it receives about the same amount of stellar energy from its star as Mars does from the Sun.’’

“If the planet has a dense atmosphere, which will take future studies to determine, it could trap enough heat to warm the planet and allow liquid water on its surface.”

Of course, much further study is required and scientists eagerly await the new telescopes going online.  Jack Maddon of the study team, added: “We built the first models of what this new world could be like. Just knowing that liquid water can exist on the surface of this planet motivates scientists to find ways of detecting signs of life.”

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