New Super-Earth May Be Best Yet for Finding Signs of Life

That candidate is an exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth-what the worldwide team of astronomers who discovered it have deemed a "super-Earth". As far as possible life is concerned, LHS-1140b is ticking all the requirements.

"A scenario in which the Earth holds less water than most other habitable planets would be consistent with results from simulations, and could help explain why some planets have been found to be a bit less dense than we expected", Simpson said in a statement.

"This is the most exciting exoplanet I've seen in decades", said Jason Dittmann of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who led the team.

Follow-up observations by HARPS told astronomers they were looking at a super-Earth, which they estimate to be at least 5 billion years old and slightly larger but significantly more massive than our planet.

"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", researchers Xavier Delfosse and Xavier Bonfils said.

Now, an global team of astronomers has discovered a so-called 'super-Earth' that could contain liquid water, a situation that would make it a very good candidate for harbouring life.

Although 40 light years is not that distant in galactic terms (relatively speaking), it is still far enough away to make it very hard to gauge the exoplanet's habitability.

Last year, scientists revealed that three Earth-size worlds orbit a small, nearby star called TRAPPIST-1.




The LHS 1140b offers a great opportunity to test that proposition.

This also makes studying signals from the planets easier than around more active M-dwarfs.

Still, this planet is far enough from its star that any potential atmosphere had a better chance of surviving early stellar tantrums.

In December 2011 Kepler 22b was confirmed as the first potentially habitable planet orbiting in the Goldilocks Zone of a Sun-like star.

An artist's conception of a newly discovered rocky planet, named LHS 1140b, that is located 39 light-years from Earth in the habitable zone where liquid water could exist. Although this typically destroys a planet's atmosphere, astronomers believe LHS 1140b might have gone through a magma-ocean phase feeding water into the atmosphere - and maintaining the conditions necessary for life.

This rookie, known as LHS 1140b, hails from the constellation Cetus (the sea monster). 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.

"We are very excited by this discovery". When red dwarf stars are young, they emit radiation that can damage the atmospheres of planets around them. Astronomers are already placing LHS 1140b at the top of their lists when new telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope come online.

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.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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