New exoplanet may be best place to look for alien life

New exoplanet may be best place to look for alien life

Abuja - A newly discovered planet sitting in a solar system just 39 light years away has been dubbed one of the best targets for finding alien life, scientists have said. LHS 1140b's size has astronomers convinced it could have once been oozing with magma.

Other information is its mass which is 6.6 times that of the Earth, giving it a gravitational pull three times stronger, making a 167-pound person feel like 500 pounds on this planet.

With thousands of planets now confirmed, each day we get a little closer to that futuristic "Star Trek" mission credo "to explore unusual new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations".

"This is the most exciting exoplanet I've seen in the past decade", lead author Jason Dittmann of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said in a press release.

He approached the European Southern Observatory's HARPS team, home of the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher, and they confirmed it.

The newfound world is described as a rocky "Super-Earth" because it is 40 percent larger than Earth with a diameter of 11,322 miles. During that time, the habitable zone of the star would be much further out, which means that LHS 1140b was exceptionally heated.

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.

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This also makes studying signals from the planets easier than around more active M-dwarfs. "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". For example, the mass of all those planets orbiting Trappist-1 are mere estimates, and we know very little about the composition of the exoplanet in orbit of Proxima Centauri.

"We are multiplying opportunities for looking for the place where life may have emerged elsewhere in the Universe", he said.

But LHS 1140b is exceptional because of its location. But it can be studied in great detail only when the next-generation of large telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch next year, the Thirty Meter Telescope, and the Giant Magellan Telescope come online. LHS-1140b, as the new planet is known, however, particularly excited scientists due to the possibility of carrying out an analysis of its atmosphere with the help of existing telescopes.

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

When red dwarfs are young, they emit radiation that can damage the planets around them.

As a result, astronomers have been able to get close, frequent looks at the all-important light signature - a big plus in the drive to figure out a planet's size, mass and possible atmosphere. "We've been delighted to hear about the discovery of LHS by our colleagues from Harvard", he said.

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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