Scientists discover planet likely to comprise alien life

Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have announced the discovery of a new super-Earth, designated LHS 1140b, orbiting the habitable zone of a small red dwarf star, LHS 1140, about 39 light-years away. What is LHS 1140b, exactly?

It's about 40 percent bigger than our home planet, hence the moniker super-Earth, and it's much more dense, weighing about 6.6 times as much as Earth, giving it three times the gravitational pull.

A new, nearby exoplanet could be just the boilerplate needed to find out if life could exist in untold numbers of star systems.

Early measurements suggest it is about five billion years old, or about 500 million years more than the Earth, and has a diameter about 1.4 times the size of our planet.

Whether there is actually water on the planet or not depends on the composition of its atmosphere and other factors, including the presence of a magnetic field, such as the one Earth has, but the most important thing is for the planet to "fulfil the requirements to have water", which means that it must be in its star's habitable zone, Murgas said. Now, we know of thousands of such planets - and today, scientists may have discovered the best candidate yet for alien life.

Not too long ago, planets orbiting the red dwarfs did not interest scientists because they were mostly tidally locked. During that time, the habitable zone of the star would be much further out, which means that LHS 1140b was exceptionally heated.

Simpson found that the Earth's finely balanced oceans may be a outcome of the anthropic principle which accounts for how our observations of the universe are influenced by the requirement for the formation of sentient life. "This debate definitely isn't settled, and there are compelling reasons why these planets might lose their atmospheres and there are also ways that you can imagine it can hold onto its atmosphere".

Header Image: An illustration shows the newly discovered planet LHS 1140b crossing in front of its star.

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"Even small planets. are not necessarily "terrestrial" worlds like the Earth", Weiss says.

This rookie, known as LHS 1140b, hails from the constellation Cetus (the sea monster). It may be the best place to look for signs of life outside the Solar System.

"This planet will be an excellent target for the James Webb Space Telescope when it launches in 2018, and I'm especially excited about studying it with the ground-based Giant Magellan Telescope, which is under construction", said co-author David Charbonneau.

Dittmann thinks that the TRAPPIST-1 planets and LHS 1140b are exciting in their own right, and all deserve to be studied further.

It's not the first time a potentially habitable planet has been located in the same region of the galaxy. We also expect - and hope to check with future data - that the star is very quiet at high energies as well.

Research team member Dr Nicola Astudillo-Defru, of Geneva Observatory in Switzerland, said: "The present conditions of the red dwarf are particularly favourable - LHS 1140 spins more slowly and emits less high-energy radiation than other similar low-mass stars".

More observations using the Hubble Space Telescope are underway and the researchers are already using everything they can to study the planet and its atmosphere.


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