Scientists Discover Planet Likely to Have Alien Life

Apr 22, 2017, 01:35
Scientists Discover Planet Likely to Have Alien Life

Xavier Bonfils, an astronomer at the Observatory of the Sciences of the Universe in Grenoble, France, said LHS 1140b now "joins Trappist-1 at the head of the rankings".

But with a mass around seven times greater than the Earth, and hence a much higher density, it implies that the exoplanet is probably made of rock with a dense iron core, according to the study published in the journal Nature. Scientists estimate that the planet is about five billion years old.

Dittmann and his team of researchers followed up on the observation using the European Southern Observatory (ESO) HARPS instrument, which allowed them to confirm the planet's orbital period, mass and density.

But for a planet that's orbiting a star 39 light-years away in the constellation of Cetus, how do we know such details?

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Not too long ago, planets orbiting the red dwarfs did not interest scientists because they were mostly tidally locked. Instead of torching LHS 1140b, the star - known simply as LHS 1140 - provides only half the energy that Earth receives.

According to a database maintained at the University of Puerto Rico, there are over twenty Earth-sized planets that have liquid water, which would suggest the presence of life, but until now, none had been within the range of our telescopes. "LHS 1140 is brighter at optical wavelengths because it's slightly bigger than the TRAPPIST-1 star".

The model predicts that most habitable planets are dominated by oceans spanning over 90 per cent of their surface area.This conclusion is reached because the Earth itself is very close to being a so-called "waterworld" - a world where all land is immersed under a single ocean. And in August, astronomers found that the nearest planet to Earth outside our solar system, only 25 trillion miles away, also could have the right temperature for life, but astronomers can't get a peek at its atmosphere.

The astronomers hope that with more powerful telescopes coming up in the future they will be able to probe the planet for signs of water and other conditions suitable for harbouring life.

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But LHS 1140b is exceptional because of its location. "We've been delighted to hear about the discovery of LHS by our colleagues from Harvard", he said. At the moment, our hopes rest on the telescopes now under construction in Chile which are due to be completed soon, whilst NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which should be operational in 2018, is also expected to provide some support.

"What I truly find exciting is that we have a potentially habitable, rocky planet orbiting a nearby star that is now very calm and stable and doesn't flare", Dittmann said.

"Realistically, we're going to be getting our first tastes of these atmospheres sometime in the next decade", Dittmann says.

"LHS 1140 spins more slowly and emits less high-energy radiation than other similar low-mass stars", points out Astudillo-Defru.

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Using ESO's HARPS instrument at La Silla, and other telescopes around the world, an global team of astronomers discovered a "super-Earth" orbiting in the habitable zone around the faint star LHS 1140. Astronomers are already placing LHS 1140b at the top of their lists when new telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope come online.

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