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Nasa finds new Earth-sized planet, possibly covered in volcanoes

The new planet, named LP 791-18 d  (Nasa)
The new planet, named LP 791-18 d (Nasa)

Nasa has found a planet around the size of Earth beyond our solar system which may be covered with volcanoes.

Using the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite alongside data from the retired Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers found the planet which they are calling the LP 791-18 d.

Björn Benneke, a co-author on the paper published in the scientific journal Nature, said: “[The planet] is tidally locked, which means the same side constantly faces its star.

“The day side would probably be too hot for liquid water to exist on the surface. But the amount of volcanic activity we suspect occurs all over the planet could sustain an atmosphere, which may allow water to condense on the night side.”

Nasa has said the planet orbits around a red dwarf - a burning out star towards the end of its life - around 90 light years from Earth.

LP 791-18 d is located in the southern constellation Crater.

Jessie Christiansen, a research scientist at NASA, said: “A big question in astrobiology, the field that broadly studies the origins of life on Earth and beyond, is if tectonic or volcanic activity is necessary for life.

“In addition to potentially providing an atmosphere, these processes could churn up materials that would otherwise sink down and get trapped in the crust, including those we think are important for life, like carbon.”

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Spitzer’s observations of the system were among the last the satellite collected before it was decommissioned in January 2020.

The entire body of scientific data collected by Spitzer during its lifetime is available to the public via the Spitzer data archive, housed at the Infrared Science Archive at IPAC at Caltech in Pasadena, California.