Another nearby planet found that may be just right for life

Gwen Vasquez
April 20, 2017

This is done by measuring the slight dip in the star's light curve as a planet passes in front of it. Followup observations were made by the European Southern Observatory's High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS). If either of those telescopes can't quite suss it out, future telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope might make it easier. The planet weighs about 6.6 times the mass of Earth and is shown passing in front of LHS 1140.

Scientists do caution that it is possible that the planet had its water stripped in the formation of its solar system, causing a runaway greenhouse effect.

He added: "We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science - searching for evidence of life beyond Earth". Several have been found in the habitable zone of their stars through NASA's Kepler and K2 missions, although they are farther away and could later be proven to be gaseous.

In February, NASA announced it had discovered carbon-based organic material, similar to what may have been the building blocks for life on Earth, on Ceres, a dwarf planet located between Mars and Jupiter.

For life as we know it to exist, a planet must have liquid surface water and retain an atmosphere.

The prospects for spotting signs of life on super-Earth LHS 1140-b are even better, because unlike with Proxima b, we're aligned at a almost ideal angle to observe it as it passes in front of its star every 25 days. It also has a circular orbit, which means it is a safer place for life to form since there are fewer collisions and extremes compared to planets with oblong orbits.

In the constellation Cetus, it is 39 light years or 230 trillion miles away. That suggests the planet is dense enough to be rocky.

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For that duration, it would be easy for the planet to lose all of its potential water for good.

But if the planet can shield and hide its water source from this heat, it would be saved, Dittman said.

As LHS 1140 is much smaller and cooler than our own star, it doesn't throw out anything close to the levels of radiation that our Sun is capable of emitting. "This star that LHS 1140b orbits seems to be quiet, so it's not going to damage the planet's atmosphere or anything on its surface", Dittmann explained.

LHS 1140 b or TRAPPIST-1?

A young red dwarf would have no problem stripping away water from a planet's atmosphere. "It's great that we have two systems, one in each flavor, so that we can actually see if this high-energy radiation actually does make a difference".

The latest discoveries have their founders at odds over which of the planets are the most promising.

"There has been lots of debate about whether these planets can maintain a magnetic field (and if that's important for habitability) and if M-dwarf planets lose their atmospheres in their host star's active youth", principal investigator Jason Dittman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told Astronomy. Astronomers say it's larger than Earth, but appears to be rocky and temperate and likely has an atmosphere. "We're essentially running down the list of the thing we want in a habitable planet and checking the boxes".

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