Jumbo Earthlike planet might have water and life, close enough to study


Today researchers at Harvard-Smithsonian made an exciting announcement: a newly discovered planet may be the best candidate yet for finding life outside of our solar system.

The name is LHS 1140b.

Other information is its mass which is 6.6 times that of the Earth, giving it a gravitational pull three times stronger, making a 167-pound person feel like 500 pounds on this planet.

A newly discovered planet is the most promising yet in the search for extraterrestrial life, according to the Harvard astronomers who found it.

Scientists estimate the exoplanet is at least five billion years old.

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.

The super-Earth and its parent star are located in the constellation Cetus, the Whale, 39 light years from the Sun, thus - relatively speaking - putting it in our galactic "neighbourhood", according to Felipe Murgas, the coauthor of the study and a researcher with Spain's Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics.

Dr Jason Dittman is lead author of the study, A temperate rocky super-Earth transiting a nearby cool star, published this week in Nature. Instead of torching LHS 1140b, the star - known simply as LHS 1140 - provides only half the energy that Earth receives.

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The saving grace is that LHS 1140b's sun is a red dwarf, about one-fifth the size of Earth, and much cooler.

First, the planet's density suggests it is solid, the kind of place where life could thrive on, under, or above the surface. "LHS 1140 is brighter at optical wavelengths because it's slightly bigger than the TRAPPIST-1 star". At this point, there's still much to learn about the planet, but it's definitely a starting point for newer, more powerful telescopes. If initial on-Earth investigations indicate there are signs of life on the planet, the next step would naturally be to dispatch a probe.

"Even small planets. are not necessarily "terrestrial" worlds like the Earth", Weiss says.

Using ESO's HARPS instrument at La Silla, and other telescopes around the world, an worldwide team of astronomers discovered a "super-Earth" orbiting in the habitable zone around the faint star LHS 1140.

"I really want to emphasise that both our system and TRAPPIST-1 are exciting and both worthy of intense future study", he told Gizmodo. We also expect - and hope to check with future data - that the star is very quiet at high energies as well. "LHS is one of these planets around small nearby red dwarfs, the ones we need to find as soon (and as many) as possible to study them with the JWST".

And last week, scientists from Europe and the United Kingdom announced that they had detected an atmosphere around a nearby exoplanet called GJ 1132b-the smallest such world to offer up any clues about its gassy constituents.

Outside astronomers have already put this new planet near the top of their must-see lists for new ground and space-based telescopes.