Another nearby planet found that may be just right for life

Audrey Hill
April 20, 2017

Lead scientist Dr Jason Dittmann, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, US, said: "This is the most exciting exoplanet I've seen in the past decade".

"Super-Earth" is located in the heart of the habitable zone - a region of space where temperatures are mild enough to allow liquid surface water - and it circles a faint dwarf star, LHS 1140, in the Cetus constellation. The planet weighs about 6.6 times the mass of Earth and is shown passing in front of LHS 1140.

Whether there is actually water on the planet or not depends on the composition of its atmosphere and other factors, including the presence of a magnetic field, such as the one Earth has, but the most important thing is for the planet to "fulfil the requirements to have water", which means that it must be in its star's habitable zone, Murgas said.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Astronomers have found yet another planet that seems to have just the right Goldilocks combination for life: Not so hot and not so cold.

The closest Earth-sized habitable-zone planet to us, circling Proxima Centauri, lies only 4.2 light years away, but does not transit in front of its star relative to our point of view, so we can not see the planet or its atmosphere.

"What I truly find exciting is that we have a potentially habitable, rocky planet orbiting a nearby star that is now very calm and stable and doesn't flare", Dittman said. "The fact that the planet is rocky and in its star's habitable zone also raises its intrigue, because we may now have a planet suitable for the search for life as well".

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With this new discovery, astronomers have identified 52 potentially habitable planets and more than 3,600 planets outside our solar system.

The initial discovery was made using the MEarth facility, which detected the tell-tale dip in light from LHS 1140 as LHS 1140b passed between the surface of the star and the observatory. But the smaller size of the star is offset by its proximity. Red dwarf stars usually have a few planets in their orbit, like TRAPPIST-1.

Seven mostly Earth-sized planets were previously found circling a star called Trappist-1.

. "But we know that things can live at very high pressures at the bottom of the ocean, and we know of lots of bacteria that can survive all sorts of insane environments, so I think it's not infeasible to imagine some form of life being ok with living on a super-Earth".

Furthermore, scientists believe that the red dwarf, as we see it today, is emitting less high-energy radiation and spinning slower than other stars of its type, both of which are factors conducive to life.

Xavier Bonfils, an astronomer at the Observatory of the Sciences of the Universe in Grenoble, France, said LHS 1140b now "joins Trappist-1 at the head of the rankings". This means that even though this "super-Earth" is orbiting much closer to its star, it's only receiving about half as much sunlight as we do.

"We don't have atmospheric measurements right now, but the star behaves nicely so that it's not ruling out anything", says Dittman. A younger LHS 1140 host star would have washed the exoplanet in hellish waves of ultraviolet light that would have turned the planet into a deathscape like Venus. Thirty-two of the potentially habitable planets found so far are considered super-Earth sized. "But hopefully someday very soon we can start confronting those theories with real data!" "We plan to search for water, and ultimately molecular oxygen". "And when the next generation of telescopes come online [The James Webb Space Telescope, and the ground-based Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and European-Extremely Large Telescope (EELT) ], we'll be in a great spot to find out what sorts of atmospheres planets around M dwarfs have".

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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