In this artist tendering provided by M. Weiss Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a newly-discovered rocky exoplanet, LHS 1140b. As LHS 1140b passes in front of its host stars, astronomers noted a dimming effect and were able to discern the planets approximate size and mass.
Astronomers have found roughly 20 Earth-sized planets that might support liquid water, according to a database maintained by the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.
The fact that LHS 1140b is a super-Earth is a bit concerning to any hopes that - if humans ever manage to master interstellar travel - we could one day settle the planet and establish a colony.
Once the star contracted, the planet's magma would cool and release gases and water, creating a place more suitable for life right at the time that it moved into the habitable zone of the star.
"This is the first one where we actually know it's rocky", said Harvard astronomer David Charbonneau, a co-author of the study.
Since the star it orbits is quite small and relatively close to us, it may be possible for current telescopes and those now under construction to determine if the planet has an atmosphere.
About 40 light-years from Earth, a small but massive rocky world orbits a cool, red star.
The super-Earth and its parent star are located in the constellation Cetus, the Whale, 39 light years from the Sun, thus - relatively speaking - putting it in our galactic "neighbourhood", according to Felipe Murgas, the coauthor of the study and a researcher with Spain's Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics.
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In 2015, Dittman was going over some observation data of small red stars collected by two robotically controlled observatories, called the MEarth Project, when he spotted something promising. "LHS 1140 is brighter at optical wavelengths because it's slightly bigger than the TRAPPIST-1 star". By measuring how much light this planet blocks, the team determined that it is about 11,000 miles in diameter, or about 40 percent larger than Earth. Not a lot of super-Earths have been found to sit in the habitable zone, so this rare find raises the possibility that there could be a lot more planets like this one. "This has been a remarkable year for exoplanet discoveries!".
In the future, they want to use HARPS to continue observing the star and see if there are more planets around it. Now, we know of thousands of such planets - and today, scientists may have discovered the best candidate yet for alien life.
Exoplanet discoveries in the past decade have made it clear there are plenty of other solar systems, but in the a year ago we've increasingly spotted new worlds that indicate there may be plenty of other Earths out there too.
Furthermore, they established that LHS 1140b receives an insolation of 0.46 times that of Earth.
Astronomers say they've pinpointed a potentially habitable planet that might offer our best chance of characterizing an alien atmosphere in the near future. When red dwarf stars are young, they emit radiation that can damage the atmospheres of planets around them.
But Dittman thinks that the TRAPPIST-1 planets and LHS 1140b are exciting in their own right, and all deserve to be studied further. Three of the planets are in the Goldilocks zone, though all of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are believed to be rocky. "We plan to search for water, and ultimately molecular oxygen".
"We will have a first attempt to detect such an atmosphere with Hubble Space Telescope this year, and next with the James Webb Space Telescope", Bonfils told WIRED.
He is excited about eventually answering the question of whether or not we're alone in the unvierse.