Another nearby planet found that may be just right for life
Jason Ditton at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said the new exoplanet, known as LHS 1140b, was the most exciting he had seen in 10 years.
"Super-Earth" is located in the heart of the habitable zone - a region of space where temperatures are mild enough to allow liquid surface water - and it circles a faint dwarf star, LHS 1140, in the Cetus constellation.
Another bit of good news is that terrestrial planet LHS 1140b as seen from earth passes nearly directly in front of its star, and that makes it a lot easier to do follow up research that Dittmann and his colleagues are already planning.
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He and his fellow researchers say LHS 1140 b's atmosphere might have weathered the star's early outbursts due to the planet's size, and the fact that it was probably farther away from the star back then.
The "super-Earth", which is around 1.4 times the size of Earth but seven times its mass, is rocky, temperate and orbits a quiet star in our galactic neighbourhood.
"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", explains Nicola Astudillo-Defru, one of the astronomers behind the discovery.
Currently, the MEarth project is studying small stars that are less than a third the size of the Sun.
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"Given its large surface gravity and cool insolation, the planet may have retained its atmosphere despite the greater luminosity (compared to the present-day) of its host star in its youth", the study authors wrote. "LHS 1140 is brighter at optical wavelengths because it's slightly bigger than the TRAPPIST-1 star". They measured the mass of the planet to be 6.6 times that of Earth, which is consistent with a rocky bulk composition.
There are also lessons to glean from, and apply to, the TRAPPIST-1 system whose discovery was announced in February this year. These star types have become popular targets for exoplanet hunters, since they're also common throughout the galaxy and it's easier to spot planets around them.
Water is one of the main ingredients and the team behind the research say that chemical reactions on the planet could have given in an abundance of water.
Furthermore, they established that LHS 1140b receives an insolation of 0.46 times that of Earth.
Before the discovery of super-Earths, Earth was considered to be the largest rocky planet.
Next up, scientists will continue observing the newest super-Earth using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, in hopes of figuring out what kind of atmosphere the planet has, or if it even has one at all. But LHS 1140b's red dwarf star (named LHS 1140) is tinier and a lot cooler than our sun.
LHS 1140b's dense metal core, however, might mean that it was covered by an ocean of magma during its host star's insane youthful period.
"Right now we're just making educated guesses about the content of this planet's atmosphere", Dittmann acknowledged.
In the next few years, telescopes should be able to use the planet's path to examine its atmosphere, Charbonneau said. "We plan to search for water, and ultimately molecular oxygen".
Seven outside astronomers said the Milky Way is big enough for all the discoveries to be exciting, requiring more exploring.
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