Scientists studying a newly-discovered super-Earth circling a star some 40 light years away believe they just may have found an exoplanet that might be able to sustain alien life. Situated in the habitable zone of an older and faint red dwarf star, LHS 1140, astronomers believe that conditions may exist on the planet that has allowed for it to maintain an atmosphere, making it the foremost candidate in the search for extraterrestrial life.
Phys.org reported this week that exoplanet LHS 1140b, orbiting a star in the constellation Cetus (The Whale), could be the planet that finally reveals that humanity is not alone in the universe. A super-Earth (at 1.4 times the size of the Earth, 18,000 kilometers — 11,185 miles — in diameter), the planet is believed to be of the rocky type, with a dense iron core. It is located about 10 times closer to its parent star than the Earth is to the sun, but since the red dwarf is smaller and cooler than Sol, this positions the planet in the optimal place for habitability.
“This is the most exciting exoplanet I’ve seen in the past decade. We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science—searching for evidence of life beyond Earth,” lead author of the study, Jason Dittmann of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said of the find.
“The present conditions of the red dwarf are particularly favorable — LHS 1140 spins more slowly and emits less high-energy radiation than other similar low-mass stars,” team member Nicola Astudillo-Defru from Geneva Observatory, Switzerland, said of the exoplanet’s parent star.
As we all learned from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson last month following the discovery of the seven Earth-sized planets spinning around Trappist-1, another red dwarf star, the early reports that the three or four exoplanets being in the “Goldilocks zone” (another name for the habitable zone, or area around a particular star where conditions are optimal for the presence of liquid water, and by extension, alien life, to exist on a planet) might be habitable could be a bit premature due to the young age of the parent star. Red dwarfs in their early stages are notorious for emitting violent bursts of radiation, emissions that could easily strip planets of their atmospheres and produce barren, irradiated worlds.
Two of the European members of the team, Xavier Delfosse and Xavier Bonfils, both at the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) and IPAG (Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble) in Grenoble, France, concluded the following.
“The LHS 1140 system might prove to be an even more important target for the future characterization of planets in the habitable zone than Proxima b or Trappist-1. This has been a remarkable year for exoplanet discoveries!”
The discovery of super-Earth LHS 1140b presents astronomers with even greater hope of discovering alien life in that it adds to the growing list of exoplanets found around red dwarf stars, particularly worlds found in the habitable zones of said stars. Given that red dwarfs are the most prevalent type of stars in the universe, scientists believe that there would be more candidates for life around such stars.
Although 40 light years is not that distant in galactic terms (relatively speaking), it is still far enough away to make it very difficult to gauge the exoplanet’s habitability. But the search for alien life isn’t relegated to promising exoplanets, because scientists are also looking a bit closer to home to find the first evidence of living organisms outside of Earth.
As was reported by the Inquisitr last week, data gathered from a geyser plume eruption on Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, has prompted suggestions that alien life may exist under the moon’s icy exterior shell in areas akin to hydrothermal vents in Earth’s oceans. And back in March, Pluto was added to the list of worlds within the solar system where scientists have detected indicators that life might exist or could have once been extant.
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