From European Southern Observatory [Observatoire européen austral][Europäische Südsternwarte] (EU): “New ESO observations show rocky exoplanet has just half the mass of Venus”

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From European Southern Observatory [Observatoire européen austral][Europäische Südsternwarte] (EU)

5 August 2021

Olivier Demangeon
Instituto de Astrofisica e Ciências do Espaço, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade do Porto
Porto, Portugal
Tel: +351 226 089 855
Email: olivier.demangeon@astro.up.pt

María Rosa Zapatero Osorio
Chair of the “Atmospheric Characterisation” working group of the ESPRESSO science team at Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA)
Madrid, Spain
Tel: +34 9 15 20 64 27
Email: mosorio@cab.inta-csic.es

Nuno Santos
Institute of Astrophysics and Space Science [Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço | Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa] (PT), University of Porto (Universidade do Porto] (PT)
Porto, Portugal
Email: nuno.santos@astro.up.pt

François Bouchy
Member of the “Transiting planets” working group of the ESPRESSO science team at University of Geneva [Université de Genève](CH)
Genève, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 379 24 60
Email: Francois.Bouchy@unige.ch

Alejandro Suárez Mascareño
Institute of Astrophysics of the Canaries[Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias] (ES)Tenerife, Spain
Tel: +34 658 778 954
Email: asm@iac.es

Mario Damasso
INAF – Astrophysical Observatory of Turin [Osservatorio Astrofisico di Torino] (IT)Turin, Italy
Tel: +39 339 1816786
Email: mario.damasso@inaf.it

Pedro Figueira
Astronomer at ESO and Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, instrument scientist of ESPRESSO
Santiago, Chile
Tel: +56 2 2463 3074
Email: pedro.figueira@eso.org

Bárbara Ferreira
ESO Media Manager
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6670
Cell: +49 151 241 664 00
Email: press@eso.org

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A team of astronomers have used the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) [below] in Chile to shed new light on planets around a nearby star L 98-59, that resemble those in the inner Solar System. Amongst the findings are a planet with half the mass of Venus — the lightest exoplanet ever to be measured using the radial velocity technique — an ocean world, and a possible planet in the habitable zone.

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This infographic shows a comparison between the L 98-59 exoplanet system (top) with part of the inner Solar System (Mercury, Venus and Earth), highlighting the similarities between the two.

L 98-59 contains four confirmed rocky planets (marked in colour in the top panel), orbiting a red-dwarf star 35 light-years away. The planet closest to the star is around half the mass of Venus, making it the lightest exoplanet ever detected using the radial velocity technique. Up to 30% of the third planet’s mass could be water, making it an ocean world. The existence of the fourth planet has been confirmed, but scientists don’t yet know its mass and radius (its possible size is indicated by a dotted line). The team also found hints of a potential fifth planet, the furthest from the star, though the team knows little about it. If confirmed, it would sit in the system’s habitable zone where liquid water could exist on its surface.

The distances from the stars and between the planets in the infographic are not up to scale. The diagram has been scaled to make the habitable zone in both the Solar System and in L 98-59 coincide. As indicated by the infographic, which includes a temperature scale (in Kelvin [K]), the Earth and the fifth (unconfirmed) planet in L 98-59 receive similar amounts of light and heat from their respective stars. Assuming their atmospheres are similar, this fifth planet would have a similar average surface temperature to Earth and would support liquid water at its surface. Credit: L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser (Acknowledgment: O. Demangeon)/ESO.


A neighbouring planetary system reveals its secrets. (ESOcast 242 Light)
A team of astronomers have used ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to shed new light on planets around a nearby star that resemble those in the inner Solar System. This video summarises what they found about the planetary system, called L 98-59. Credit: ESO

Directed by: Herbert Zodet and Martin Wallner.
Editing: Herbert Zodet.
Web and technical support: Gurvan Bazin and Raquel Yumi Shida.
Written by: Thea Elvin, Giulio Mazzolo and Bárbara Ferreira.
Music: Stellardrone — Eternity.
Footage and photos: L. Calçada, M. Kornmesser, Acknowledgment: O. Demangeon, Space Engine.org and G. Hüdepohl (atacamaphoto.com)) /ESO.
Scientific consultants: Paola Amico and Mariya Lyubenova.


A “fly-to” the L 98-59 planetary system.
This animation flies from Earth to the L 98-59 planetary system, 35 light-years away. It is home to four confirmed rocky exoplanets and a potential fifth which, if confirmed, would sit in the system’s habitable zone where liquid water could exist on its surface.

The planet closest to the star is around half the mass of Venus, making it the lightest exoplanet ever detected using the radial velocity technique, which was measured with the help of ESO’s VLT. Up to 30% of the third planet’s mass could be water, making it an ocean world.

Credit: L.Calçada/G. Hüdepohl (atacamaphoto.com)/spaceengine.org /ESO.

“The planet in the habitable zone may have an atmosphere that could protect and support life,” says María Rosa Zapatero Osorio, an astronomer at the Centre for Astrobiology [Centro de Astrobiología] (CAB, CSIC-INTA) (ES) , and one of the authors of the study published today in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The results are an important step in the quest to find life on Earth-sized planets outside the Solar System. The detection of biosignatures on an exoplanet depends on the ability to study its atmosphere, but current telescopes are not large enough to achieve the resolution needed to do this for small, rocky planets. The newly studied planetary system, called L 98-59 after its star, is an attractive target for future observations of exoplanet atmospheres. Its orbits a star only 35 light-years away and has now been found to host rocky planets, like Earth or Venus, which are close enough to the star to be warm.

With the contribution of ESO’s VLT, the team was able to infer that three of the planets may contain water in their interiors or atmospheres. The two planets closest to the star in the L 98-59 system are probably dry, but might have small amounts of water, while up to 30% of the third planet’s mass could be water, making it an ocean world.

Furthermore, the team found “hidden” exoplanets that had not previously been spotted in this planetary system. They discovered a fourth planet and suspect there is a fifth, in a zone at the right distance from the star for liquid water to exist on its surface. “We have hints of the presence of a terrestrial planet in the habitable zone of this system,” explains Olivier Demangeon, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, University of Porto in Portugal and lead author of the new study.

The study represents a technical breakthrough, as astronomers were able to determine, using the radial velocity method, that the innermost planet in the system has just half the mass of Venus. This makes it the lightest exoplanet ever measured using this technique, which calculates the wobble of the star caused by the tiny gravitational tug of its orbiting planets.

The team used the Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observations (ESPRESSO) instrument on ESO’s VLT to study L 98-59.

“Without the precision and stability provided by ESPRESSO this measurement would have not been possible,” says Zapatero Osorio. “This is a step forward in our ability to measure the masses of the smallest planets beyond the Solar System.”

The astronomers first spotted three of L 98-59’s planets in 2019, using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

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National Aeronautics Space Agency (US)/Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US) TESS

Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Center for Astrophysics – Harvard and Smithsonian; MIT Lincoln Laboratory; and the NASA Space Telescope Science Institute (US) in Baltimore.


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This satellite relies on a technique called the transit method — where the dip in the light coming from the star caused by a planet passing in front of it is used to infer the properties of the planet — to find the planets and measure their sizes.

However, it was only with the addition of radial velocity measurements made with ESPRESSO and its predecessor, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the ESO La Silla 3.6-metre telescope, that Demangeon and his team were able to find extra planets and measure the masses and radii of the first three.

“If we want to know what a planet is made of, the minimum that we need is its mass and its radius,” Demangeon explains.

The team hopes to continue to study the system with the forthcoming NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), while ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) [below], under construction in the Chilean Atacama Desert and set to start observations in 2027, will also be ideal for studying these planets.

“The HIRES instrument on the ELT may have the power to study the atmospheres of some of the planets in the L 98-59 system, thus complementing the JWST from the ground,” says Zapatero Osorio.

“This system announces what is to come,” adds Demangeon. “We, as a society, have been chasing terrestrial planets since the birth of astronomy and now we are finally getting closer and closer to the detection of a terrestrial planet in the habitable zone of its star, of which we could study the atmosphere.”

More information:

This research was presented in a paper in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The team is composed of Olivier D. S. Demangeon (Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, Universidade do Porto, Portugal [IA/UPorto], Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto, Portugal [CAUP] and Departamento de Física e Astronomia, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade do Porto, Portugal [FCUP]), M. R. Zapatero Osorio (Centro de Astrobiología, Madrid, Spain [CSIC-INTA]), Y. Alibert (Physics Institute, University of Bern [Universität Bern](CH)), S. C. C. Barros (IA/UPorto, CAUP and FCUP), V. Adibekyan (IA/UPorto, CAUP and FCUP), H. M. Tabernero (IA/UPorto and CAUP), A. Antoniadis-Karnavas (IA/UPorto & FCUP), J. D. Camacho (IA/UPorto & FCUP), A. Suárez Mascareño (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Tenerife, Spain [IAC] and Departamento de Astrofísica, University of La Laguna [Universidad de La Laguna](ES)), M. Oshagh (IAC/ULL), G. Micela (Giuseppe S. Vaiana Astronomical Observatory [Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo](IT), Palermo, Italy), S. G. Sousa (IA/UPortol & CAUP), C. Lovis (Observatoire de Genève, Université de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland [UNIGE]), F. A. Pepe (UNIGE), R. Rebolo (IAC/ULL & Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Spain), S. Cristiani (Astronomical Observatory of Trieste [Osservatorio Astronomico di Trieste] (IT)), N. C. Santos (IA/UPorto, CAUP and FCUP), R. Allart (Department of Physics and Institute for Research on Exoplanets, University of Montréal [Université de Montréal] (CA) and UNIGE), C. Allende Prieto (IAC/ULL), D. Bossini (IA/UPorto), F. Bouchy (UNIGE), A. Cabral (Instituto de Astrofísica e Ciências do Espaço, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal [IA/FCUL] and Departamento de Física da Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal), M. Damasso (INAF – Osservatorio Astrofisico di Torino, Italy [INAF Torino]), P. Di Marcantonio (INAF Trieste), V. D’Odorico (INAF Trieste & Institute for Fundamental Physics of the Universe(IT) – IFPU, Trieste, Italy [IFPU]), D. Ehrenreich (UNIGE), J. Faria (IA/UPorto, CAUP and FCUP), P. Figueira (European Southern Observatory, Santiago de Chile, Chile [ESO-Chile] and IA/UPorto), R. Génova Santos (IAC/ULL), J. Haldemann (Bern), J. I. González Hernández (IAC/ULL), B. Lavie (UNIGE), J. Lillo-Box (CSIC-INTA), G. Lo Curto (European Southern Observatory, Garching bei München, Germany [ESO]), C. J. A. P. Martins (IA/UPorto and CAUP), D. Mégevand (UNIGE), A. Mehner (ESO-Chile), P. Molaro (INAF Trieste and IFPU), N. J. Nunes (IA/FCUL), E. Pallé (IAC/ULL), L. Pasquini (ESO), E. Poretti (Fundación G. Galilei – INAF Telescopio Nazionale Galileo, La Palma, Spain and INAF – Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera, Italy), A. Sozzetti (INAF Torino), and S. Udry (UNIGE).

See the full article here .


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European Southern Observatory [Observatoire européen austral][Europäische Südsternwarte] (EU) is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

European Southern Observatory(EU) , Very Large Telescope at Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert •ANTU (UT1; The Sun ) •KUEYEN (UT2; The Moon ) •MELIPAL (UT3; The Southern Cross ), and •YEPUN (UT4; Venus – as evening star). Elevation 2,635 m (8,645 ft) from above Credit J.L. Dauvergne & G. Hüdepohl atacama photo. [/caption]

ESO Very Large Telescope 4 lasers on Yepun (CL)

European Southern Observatory(EU)/MPG Institute for Radio Astronomy [MPG Institut für Radioastronomie](DE) ESO’s Atacama Pathfinder Experiment(CL) high on the Chajnantor plateau in Chile’s Atacama region, at an altitude of over 4,800 m (15,700 ft).

European Southern Observatory(EU) ExTrA telescopes at erro LaSilla at an altitude of 2400 metres.