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BREAKING: Newly Discovered Planet Could Be The Best Hope For Life Outside Our Solar System

We live in an unbelievable age where scientists don't just find it hard to make out exoplanets against the dark blackness of the night sky, but as for uncovering worlds that might support life, it's never easy.

Which is why it's so electrifying that cosmologists think they might have now discovered a new best candidate to explore life beyond our Solar System: it's named LHS 1140b, a distant world that's a slightly larger than Earth, found about 40 light-years away.

"This is the most exciting exo-planet I have seen in the past decade," says lead scientist Jason Dittmann from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (SCA).

"We could barely hope for a better objective to achieve one of the main quests in science – searching for sign of life beyond Earth."

Artist's impression. Credit: M. Weiss/CfA

LHS 1140b is what's entitled as a super-Earth, a planet little bigger than Earth, but less than 10 times as much. In this situation, the exoplanet has a mass of about seven times larger than Earth, but it's merely 1.4 times the size, which the team features to a much difficult density, likely comprising of a dense iron core.

But what makes LHS 1140b so fascinating for more analysis isn't its size or mass – but the point is that it orbits within the habitable area of its host star, a dim red dwarf called LHS 1140, sited in the Cetus constellation.

LHS 1140b is really 10 times nearer to its host star than Earth is to the Sun, but because LHS 1140 is also considerably cooler and dimmer than the Sun, it means the exo-planet doesn't get fried by the closeness, eventually receiving only about half as much light as Earth.

"The current conditions of the red dwarf are principally favorable," says one of the team members, astronomer Nicola Astudillo Defru from Geneva Observatory in Switzerland.




"LHS 1140 rotates more slowly and produces a lesser amount of high-energy radiation than other comparable low-mass stars."

That's significant because the total amount of heat and light coming out from the LHS 1140 isn’t so hot that liquid water can't be on the planetary surface, something which is important for life as we know it, and the meaning of whether a planet drops within a star's habitable zone (also known as Goldilocks zone).

The cosmologists discovered LHS 1140b using the ESO’s (European Southern Observatory) HARPS equipment at the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

The exoplanet is likely to be only 5 billion years old, and may not have always been so warm; it’s possible that LHS 1140 star when younger may have been more unstable, theoretically stripping water from LHS 1140b's sky, if it once had one.

The astronomers and cosmologists are confident however that the planet may have recollected or regained an atmosphere, possibly by catching steam produced by magma oceans that may have heated on the surface in its early life.

Artist's impression. Credit: ESO/spaceengine.org




To help confirm that hypothesis, the team objectives are to study the planet with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and the ESO's coming Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), will be completed in 2024 (a long time away, nevertheless, it is extremely large).

Of course, it's not the only distant planet to get cosmologists extremely excited in recent times. Just this month, astronomers announced the discovery of an atmosphere covering another super Earth called Gliese 1132b.

It has the distance from Earth at about 39 light-years, but as Fiona MacDonald stated for ScienceAlert, just because these far away exoplanets show promising marks of habitability, that's not the verification for habitability until we know a lot more – nor is it evidence of the ultimate thing we are really exploring for… alien life itself:

"Plus let's not forget that we have recently been burned by the discovery of the TRAPPIST–1 'sister solar system' and neighboring Earth-like world Proxima b, both of which are unlikely to be the pleasant places for life we first believed they were."

But hey, no one said it was easy, right? What we do know now is that LHS 1140b is guiding us all the right signs to permit some severe further investigation.

For now, that's all a space-loving-science-community can hope to ask for.

"The LHS 1140 system might show to be an even more vital target for the future characterization of planets in the habitable region than Proxima b or TRAPPIST–1," said by the two team members, Xavier Bonfils and Xavier Delfosse from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (FNCSR).

"This has been an amazing year for exoplanet findings!"

The discovery is published in Nature.

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