Another Nearby Planet Found That May Be Just Right For Life

Planet Hunters Find Another 'Earthy' Planet in Our Galactic Neighborhood

Planet Hunters Find Another 'Earthy' Planet in Our Galactic Neighborhood

A newly discovered "super-Earth" 39 light years away could be the best candidate yet for a world beyond the solar system that harbours life, say scientists.

In what has been described as one of the most important discoveries of its kind in the past decade, the existence of Planet LHS1140b - about 40 per cent bigger than Earth - will be revealed today in the prestigious journal Nature by the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics.

Further measurements of the planet by the European Southern Observatory in Chile found the planet to be about 40% larger than Earth, but with seven times the mass, which astronomers believe could be explained by it being rocky with a dense, iron core.

Most of these planets, also known as Super Earths, were thought to be made from gas but Mr Tan said the new planet was definitely rocky. It is rocky and right in the sweet spot of the habitable zone of its star, meaning it could support liquid water, and potentially life as we know it, on the surface.

In future, observations with the Nasa Hubble Space Telescope will assess exactly how much high-energy radiation is showered upon LHS 1140b.

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"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. LHS 1140b is 10 times closer to its star than we are to the sun, but it only receives half as much light because the star is so dim. On the other hand, LHS 1140b is close enough that we have more data, which gives it even more potential as a site for alien life.

Other planets are less cooperative with scientists than 1140b.

Follow-up observations studied the star's "wobble" caused by a gravitational tug of war with the planet and confirmed the presence of a super-Earth.

There might be another Earth out there, and its name is LHS 1140b.

LHS 1140b is large enough to have the gravity it needs to have an atmosphere, and it orbits a star right within the habitable zone.

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The seven known planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system make transits, which fortunately allows for further study. And in August, astronomers found that the nearest planet to Earth outside our solar system, only 25 trillion miles away, also could have the right temperature for life, but astronomers can't get a peek at its atmosphere. A problem with these smaller stars is that they tend to blast their systems with frequent flares of radiation in the earlier part of their lives. The signal for star LHS 1140 looked like the telltale dip in light that signifies an exoplanet in orbit. Too far away and the object won't be warmed. If a star emits this radiation often enough, the atmosphere has no time to fix itself. As the planet heated up, a steaming ocean of lava conceivably provided water vapor to replenish the atmosphere.

The lead author of the paper, Jason Dittmann, said that this could take time: the researchers are also hoping to use the James Webb Space Telescope, which won't launch until next year.

"This is the first one where we actually know it's rocky", Charbonneau said. "In the search for signs of habitability, signs of life elsewhere, the more the merrier".

The scientists aren't wasting any time following up with observations: the next transit (where the planet crosses in front of the star) will occur on October 26 and they've booked several telescopes in Chile to search for signatures of oxygen molecules in the planet's atmosphere.

This high-energy radiation, like that from Earth's sun, could ultimately determine the planet's capacity to support life.

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