QLD astronomers have found a rare exoplanet

By Juliano Oliveira

Astronomers from the USQ (University of Southern Queensland) have led the discovery of a new planet 250 light-years away from the Earth.

TOI-257b, as it was baptized, has a mass forty times and a volume almost 350 times greater than our planet. It is likely to be a gaseous world, given its low density.

The new find fits into what astronomers call ‘sub-Saturns’ (larger than Neptune and smaller than Saturn), a planet absent from the Solar System. Due to its temperature, TOI-257b is a rare object amongst the currently known exoplanets.

The confirmation of the exoplanet also features the use of the Minerva-Australis facility, an array of five 70cm aperture robotic telescopes utilized to support NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite).

Lead author astrophysicist Dr Brett Addison showed confidence in the discovery of more planets.

“It is likely that many more planets will be confirmed in the months to come, and Minerva-Australis will continue to play an important role.

“In fact, our data shows strong evidence for a second planet in the system, TOI-257c, which we hope to confirm in the coming year.”

Mt Ke Minerva-Australis at USQ’s Mount Kent Observatory

As the only dedicated ‘exoplanet hunting’ facility in the Southern Hemisphere, Minerva-Australis has played a key role in the confirmation discovery of 19 exoplanets, but TOI-257b marks the first Australian-led confirmation of planet detected by TESS.

“As of January, the TESS mission has delivered a total of 1604 planetary candidates and follow-up observations have resulted in a total of 37 confirmed planetary discoveries,” Dr Addison said.