Outer Space, Planets

Astronomers Discover Super-Earth That May Be Our Best Candidate For Life To Date

Meet Super-Earth LHS 1140B

Researchers recently located LHS 1140-B, it’s classified as a “Super-Earth” and is believed to be our best candidate for life to date. The discovery of the planet may prove even more useful in the hunt for life than recent finds such as TRAPPIST-1 and Proxima-B.

“This is the most exciting exoplanet I’ve seen in the past decade”




 
The planet orbits a red-dwarf (LHS 1140) roughly 40 light years from Earth and was found using the HARP instrument at the ESO in conjunction with telescope data from around the world. The planet is believed to have an atmosphere and be slightly larger than Earth. The planet is 10 times closer to it’s star than we are to the Sun, but because it’s star is a Red-Dwarf (much cooler) it lies just within the system’s habitable zone.

The ESO is calling this the “most exciting exoplanet I’ve seen in the past decade, we could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science — searching for evidence of life beyond Earth.” according to lead author Jason Dittmann of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

This artist’s impression shows the exoplanet LHS 1140b, which orbits a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth and may be the new holder of the title “best place to look for signs of life beyond the Solar System”. Using ESO’s HARPS instrument at La Silla, and other telescopes around the world, an international team of astronomers discovered this super-Earth orbiting in the habitable zone around the faint star LHS 1140. This world is a little larger and much more massive than the Earth and has likely retained most of its atmosphere.



 

For life as we know it to exist, a planet must have liquid surface water and retain an atmosphere. When red dwarf stars are young, they are known to emit radiation that can be damaging for the atmospheres of the planets that orbit them. In this case, the planet’s large size means that a magma ocean could have existed on its surface for millions of years. This seething ocean of lava could feed steam into the atmosphere long after the star has calmed to its current, steady glow, replenishing the planet with water.

“The LHS 1140 system might prove to be an even more important target for the future characterization of planets in the habitable zone than Proxima b or TRAPPIST-1. This has been a remarkable year for exoplanet discoveries!”

In the future Hubble observations will shed insights into how much radiation this red-dwarf emits, this will give us a more detailed look into the composition of the atmosphere that will help us infer it’s properties for habitable life.




 

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Jamie is an amateur astronomer and every day space geek.