"Super-Earth" offers chance for life outside solar system

20 April, 2017, 06:18 | Author: Oscar Goodwin
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The new planet was discovered thanks to the MEarth-South telescope network devoted exclusively to seeking out exo-planets. This planet is located in the liquid water habitable zone surrounding its host star, a small, faint red star named LHS 1140. As the planet heated up, a steaming ocean of lava conceivably provided water vapor to replenish the atmosphere.

Over the previous year, researchers have found nearby exoplanets that could potentially support life, like Proxima b and the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets. Several have been found in the habitable zone of their stars through NASA's Kepler and K2 missions, although they are farther away and could later be proven to be gaseous.

Super-Earth is a rocky, temperate planet orbiting a red dwarf star, Efe news agency reported.

Exoplanet discoveries in the past decade have made it clear there are plenty of other solar systems, but in the a year ago we've increasingly spotted new worlds that indicate there may be plenty of other Earths out there too.

"It is astonishing to live in a time when discovery of potentially habitable worlds is not only common place but proliferating", said MIT astronomer Sara Seager, who wasn't part of the study.

Scientists do caution that it is possible that the planet had its water stripped in the formation of its solar system, causing a runaway greenhouse effect.

While astronomers are continually finding planets that are potentially habitable, such as those in the TRAPPIST-1 system which was announced in February, the scientists say this one is even more promising than any to date. That makes astronomers more confident that this one is rocky, compared to other discoveries.

"This is the first one where we actually know it's rocky", said Harvard astronomer David Charbonneau, a co-author of the study.

Furthermore, scientists believe that the red dwarf, as we see it today, is emitting less high-energy radiation and spinning slower than other stars of its type, both of which are factors conducive to life.

[4] The planet around Proxima Centauri (eso1629 - http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1629/ ) is much closer to Earth, but it probably does not transit its star, making it very hard to determine whether it holds an atmosphere. ESO's HARPS instrument, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, then made crucial follow-up observations which confirmed the presence of the super-Earth.

The new planet is 40 percent wider than Earth but it has 6.6 times Earth's mass, giving it a gravitational pull three times stronger, according to Charbonneau said. A person weighing 167 pounds would feel like 500 pounds on this planet. Whilst Venus may sometimes be described as Earth's twin, it's pretty far from it, and with a surface temperature exceeding 880 degrees Fahrenheit (470 degrees Celsius), it's probably not the best environment in which to search for life.

The lead author of the paper, Jason Dittmann, said that this could take time: the researchers are also hoping to use the James Webb Space Telescope, which won't launch until next year. The exoplanet is in the Cetus constellation, which is relatively close at just 40 light years away.

Before the discovery of super-Earths, Earth was considered to be the largest rocky planet. That star is dim, meaning current and impending technology can't find breathable oxygen there, Dittmann says, though Triaud, who helped discover the TRAPPIST-1 planets, questions that view.

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Seven outside astronomers said the Milky Way is big enough for all the discoveries to be exciting, requiring more exploring. If you would like to discuss another topic, look for a relevant article.


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