Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), along with others, have discovered an earth-sized "Pi Planet" that revolves around its star every 3.14 days. The orbit of the planet, which the scientists suspect is likely not hospitable as its tight orbit brings the planet close enough to its star to heat its probably terrestrial surface up to 450 Kelvins, or around 350 degrees Fahrenheit, is reminiscent of the universal mathematics constant.
  1. The researchers discovered signals of the planet in data taken in 2017 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Kepler Space Telescope's K2 mission
  2. By zeroing in on the system earlier this year with SPECULOOS, a network of ground-based telescopes, the team confirmed that the signals were of a planet orbiting its star.
  3. The new planet is labeled K2-315b; it is the 315th planetary system discovered within K2 data
  4. According to the researcher's estimate, K2-315b has a radius of 0.95 that of Earth's, making it just about Earth-sized. 
  5. It orbits a cool, low-mass star that is about one-fifth the size of the sun. The planet circles its star every 3.14 days, at 81 kilometers per second, or about 181,000 miles per hour.
  6. The scientists suspect that K2-315b is terrestrial, like the Earth, although its proximity to its star would make it too hot for life to exist.
  7. The researchers are members of SPECULOOS (The Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars), named for a network of four 1-meter telescopes in Chile's Atacama Desert, which can scan the sky in the Southern hemisphere.
  8. The network had recently added a fifth telescope, the first in the Northern hemisphere, named Artemis.
  9. The SPECULOOS telescopes are designed to search for Earth-like planets around nearby, ultracool dwarfs -- small, dim stars that offer astronomers a better chance of spotting an orbiting planet and characterizing its atmosphere, as these stars lack the glare of larger, brighter stars.
  10. Kepler Space Telescope's second observing mission, which monitored slivers of the sky as the spacecraft orbited around the sun.
  11. Over several months in 2017, the Kepler telescope observed a part of the sky that included the cool dwarf, labeled in the K2 data as EPIC 249631677
  12. The new pi planet may be a good candidate to follow up with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), to see details of the planet's atmosphere. The team is now looking through other datasets, such as from NASA's Tess mission.
  13. There will be more interesting planets in the future, just in time for JWST, a telescope designed to probe the atmosphere of these alien worlds.