A team of scientists have discovered a new “super-Earth,” which they claim has the conditions to harbor alien life, ABC reports. The “super-Earth,” named LHS1140b, was said to be temperate and rocky, and orbits a red dwarf star 40 light-years away from Earth. The red dwarf star it orbits, Efe, is part of the constellation of Cetus, the Whale.
The study’s lead author and astronomer, Jason Dittmann from Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, said that LHS1140b is the most interesting exoplanet he has seen in the last decade. With the help of the MEarth-South telescope network, which is primarily aimed at studying exo-planets, they were able to measure the exo-planet’s mass, size, density, and orbital period. The planet was said to be 1.4 times the size and seven times the mass of Earth.
The study, which was reported on the Nature journal, found that LHS1140b is within the habitable zone, which means that liquid can exist in all three states– liquid, solid, and gas).
“It orbits a quiet star, and orbits at a distance that might mean that there’s liquid water on the planet,” Dr. Dittmann said.
Measurements suggest that LHS 1140b is about five billion years old, which makes it 500 million years older than the Earth.
The team of scientists also believe that this super-Earth has retained most of its atmosphere.
Better yet, scientists can learn more about this super-Earth quicker because of its close proximity to Earth compared to other exo-planets.
“This star is only 40 light-years away, which is incredibly close,” Dr. Dittmann said.
“If we shrank the entire galaxy to the size of the United States, the distance between the Earth and this planet would be smaller than Central Park. So this planet is really Earth’s next-door neighbour.”
Dr. Dittman added that they can observe the super-Earth’s atmosphere over the next decade and determine if its atmosphere is relatively similar to Earth’s.
LHS1140b was discovered during a survey by the Chile-based MEarth-south telescope array. The team was able to detect variations in light as the exo-planet passed in front of its red dwarf star.
Dr. Dittman said that detecting the planet is just the beginning and that they still have a lot to do to determine if the plant does have life.
“We have been approved to use the Hubble Space Telescope to begin the first steps in probing this planet’s atmosphere and to see what’s there. There is also further work to done to know for sure whether the star is as inactive at high energies as believed.”
“Astronomers will also be awaiting the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope next year, which is tipped to revolutionise research into exoplanets.”
“It will be able to find water, ozone, methane, and even carbon dioxide in this planet’s atmosphere. So the future is very exciting indeed.”
“We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science – searching for evidence of life beyond Earth,” added Dr. Dittman.
On February 22, other scientists announced they discovered seven planets that are similar to Earth in terms of mass and size. The planets are said to be near an “ultra cool” red dwarf called Trappist-1, which is 39 light years away from Earth.
While all seven planets are potential candidates for harboring water, three of them are most likely to have it since they are within the “Goldilocks Zone.”
The “Goldilocks Zone” is another term used for the habitable zone around a star where the temperate is just about right to allow liquid to exist on a planet.
Xavier Bonfils from the Observatory of the Sciences of the Universe in France said LHS 1140b now joins Trappist-1 as planets most likely to have life.
“We are very excited by this discovery. It’s a super opportunity,” he said.
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]