Discovery: Planet TOI-1452 b.

Highlights: Using observations from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), supported by ground-based telescopes, an international team led by the University of Montreal has announced the discovery of a “super-Earth” – a planet potentially rocky like ours, but larger – orbiting a red dwarf star about 100 light-years away. Further investigation could shed light on an intriguing possibility: that the planet could be an “aquatic world.”

Details: Oceanic planets have long been imagined but difficult to confirm, and TOI-1452 b is no different. About 70% larger than Earth and about five times more massive, its density could be compatible with a very deep ocean. But more follow-up will be needed. The planet could also be a huge rock, with little or no atmosphere. It could even be a rocky planet with a hydrogen and helium atmosphere.

If TOI-1452 b turned out to be an ocean world, that ocean could be quite deep. While the Earth’s surface is 70% water, our blue sea is less than 1% of Earth’s mass. A simulation of TOI-1452 b, created by computer modeling specialists from the discovery team, showed that water could constitute up to 30% of its mass. This proportion is comparable to the watery moons of our solar system – Ganymede and Callisto of Jupiter, or Titan and Enceladus of Saturn – supposed to hide the deep oceans under shells of ice.

TOI-1452 b completes a full orbit around its star every 11 days – a “year” on TOI-1452 b. But because the red dwarf star is smaller and cooler than our Sun, the planet receives a similar amount of light from its star to Venus from our Sun. Liquid water could exist on the surface of the planet, despite its close orbit. The star, by the way, is part of a pair; its gravitational partner is also a red dwarf, estimated to have an orbit of 1,400 years.

Fun facts: Planet TOI-1452 b appears perfectly positioned for further investigation by the James Webb Space Telescope, which is now providing scientific observations from its perch about a million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth. The planet’s distance of 100 light years is, in astronomical terms, quite close. Its relatively bright star should allow Webb to pick up a bright spectrum of starlight across its atmosphere, a sort of fingerprint of atmospheric components. It also appears in a part of the sky, in the constellation Draco, which Webb can observe almost any time of the year. Discovery team researchers say they will look to schedule time on Webb to take a closer look.

The discoverers: The international team that found the planet was led by Charles Cadieux, a Ph.D. student at the University of Montreal. Read the University press release.

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