Newfound exoplanet the latest hot place to look for aliens

Planet Hunters Find Another 'Earthy' Planet in Our Galactic Neighborhood

Planet Hunters Find Another 'Earthy' Planet in Our Galactic Neighborhood

"This is the most exciting exoplanet I've seen in the past decade", Dittmann said in a statement.

But what's really special about LHS 1140b, in a time when so many exoplanets are being discovered, is that it lies in the habitable zone of its star and could be hosting liquid water on its surface. The planet weighs about 6.6 times the mass of Earth and is shown passing in front of LHS 1140.

This red dwarf, however, probably had a much more active youth, during which it would have bathed the planet in harsher ultraviolet light, potentially stripping water from any existing atmosphere and contributing to a runaway greenhouse effect.

This zone, sometimes called the Goldilocks zone, is the "just right" area of a solar system where water doesn't freeze or evaporate - meaning it could possibly support life as we know it. "We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science: searching for evidence of life beyond Earth", he said. It's not so hot and not so cold.

The "potentially hazardous" asteroid 2014 JO25 flew past Earth at 33 metres per second at a distance of just over a million miles - far enough away to be safe but uncomfortably close in astronomical terms.

They suggest that the small size of the host star and its proximity to us mean that telescopes might be able to search for specific gases in the planet's atmosphere if it has one. They are also close, less than 100 light years away.

The star that LHS 1140b orbits is both small and faint. But when the planet is not visible, it is possible to observe the motion of the star and determine how much it is being moved by the planet's gravity. Red dwarf stars usually have a few planets in their orbit, like TRAPPIST-1.

Then there are the seven Earth-sized planets at a relatively close star called TRAPPIST-1. "But we know that things can live at very high pressures at the bottom of the ocean, and we know of lots of bacteria that can survive all sorts of insane environments, so I think it's not infeasible to imagine some form of life being ok with living on a super-Earth".

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There are also lessons to glean from, and apply to, the TRAPPIST-1 system whose discovery was announced in February this year.

The planet is orbiting a star about 40 light-years from Earth. "We will need to learn about the planet's atmosphere before we can conclude on whether life could be harboured on the planet", Dittmann said.

Another point in 1140b's favor: "Its temperature is very mild and similar to what Earth experiences today", Dittmann says.

The Webb telescope is expected to launch next year, but the Giant Magellan telescope won't be online until 2025, and the EELT won't be working until 2024.

"But the key part is for the first time in human history, we're going to have the ability to probe the atmospheres to see molecules in the atmospheres of temperate, rocky worlds orbiting nearby stars", he said.

Furthermore, they established that LHS 1140b receives an insolation of 0.46 times that of Earth. The signal for star LHS 1140 looked like the telltale dip in light that signifies an exoplanet in orbit. That would rule out the prospect of analyzing how starlight is altered as it passes through any atmosphere - which is now considered the leading strategy for hunting down signs of habitability and alien life.

This super-Earth, dubbed LHS 1140b, may be astronomer's best candidate yet in the search for alien life, the researchers claim.

He is excited about eventually answering the question of whether or not we're alone in the unvierse. Once it's completed, JWT will be the most powerful space-based telescope ever deployed - it will be used to peer into the atmospheres of all of these planets and more.

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