Another nearby planet found that may be just right for life
This planet is located in the liquid water habitable zone surrounding its host, a small, faint red star named LHS 1140.
"The density that we measure shows that LHS 1140b is primarily composed of rocky material like iron and silicates, the same type of things that the Earth is composed of", Dittman said.
The exoplanet therefore lies in the middle of the habitable zone of the star, meaning it has numerous conditions needed to grow alien life.
The prospects for spotting signs of life on super-Earth LHS 1140-b are even better, because unlike with Proxima b, we're aligned at a almost ideal angle to observe it as it passes in front of its star every 25 days.
M dwarf stars are characterised by the fact that they have masses less than 60% that of the Sun. Those dimensions strongly suggest that the world is rocky like Earth too.
This high-energy radiation, like that from Earth's sun, could ultimately determine the planet's capacity to support life. That makes astronomers more confident that this one is rocky, compared to other recent discoveries.
This comes after another Earth-sized planet recently discovered orbiting a second red dwarf 39 light years away could be a steamy "water world", scientists believe.
In the next several years, new telescopes should be able to use the planet's path to spy its atmosphere in what could be the best-aimed search for signs of life, said Harvard astronomer David Charbonneau, a co-author of the study.
A rocky planet that orbits a red dwarf star has been revealed as the latest contender for the best place to hunt for life beyond the solar system.
Exoplanet discoveries in the past decade have made it clear there are plenty of other solar systems, but in the previous year we've increasingly spotted new worlds that indicate there may be plenty of other Earths out there too. But they're not always ripe for life.
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The MEarth-South telescope array.
The TRAPPIST-1 planets are also smaller and one has already been proven not to be rocky through a density measurement.
Thus, LHS 1140b is located in the so-called "habitable zone", the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.
Another point in 1140b's favor: "Its temperature is very mild and similar to what Earth experiences today", Dittmann says.
The first planet outside our solar system was discovered in 1995, but thanks to new techniques and especially NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope, the number of them has exploded in recent years. Those planets are smaller than this one, but they're thought to be rocky too. But there's a problem with planets around M-dwarfs, also known as red dwarfs: Tiny red dwarfs start out as furious flare machines, which could violently strip away primordial atmospheres around recently formed planets. They want to confirm the existence of the planet's atmosphere and find out if it has molecular oxygen or water, and if it's similar to Earth. "We will need to learn about the planet's atmosphere before we can conclude on whether life could be harboured on the planet", Dittmann said.
An artistic rendering of JWST, which will be able to study the atmosphere of LHS1140b in more detail.
An analysis of the resulting data determined that the planet orbits the star every 25 days, at a distance well within Mercury's orbit around our own sun (roughly 7.4 million miles).
On Wednesday, a newly discovered and relatively nearby planet vaulted toward the top of the growing list of exoplanets worth a closer look for signs of alien creepy-crawlies or. who knows? Figuring out the gases in that atmosphere could paint a picture of what conditions are like on the surface below.
"It's just incredible what these amateurs are capable of", said Dittmann. "And it's just now becoming possible", he said.
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