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Newly Discovered Super-Earth ‘LHS 1140b’ Best Candidate Yet To Search For Alien Life

First Posted: Apr 20, 2017 05:20 AM EDT

A newly discovered exoplanet, LHS 1140b, could make it to the top spot in the list of places -- to look for alien life forms. The rocky world is located only 40 light-years away from the Solar System in the Cetus constellation. The planet has been termed as a super-Earth because it is 40 percent larger than Earth with a mass 6.6 times more.

"This is the most exciting exoplanet I have seen in the past decade," study lead author Jason Dittmann said, according to a Space.com report. "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 Science Alert, LHS 1140b is being hailed as a good candidate to look for life because the planet orbits within its parent star’s habitable zone. Furthermore, LHS 1140b is ideal for study due to its parent star that is a faint red dwarf and the exoplanet’s orientation to Earth.

LHS 1140b is 10 times closer to its parent star than Earth is to the Sun. However, because the parent star LHS 1140 is much dimmer and cooler than the Sun, LHS 1140b does not get fried by the nearness. In fact, the exoplanet receives only half the sunlight that Earth receives.

Moreover, the red dwarf star has a slower spin and emits less high-energy radiation compared to similar low-mass stars. Consequently, the amount of light and heat LHS 1140 radiates is not so hot that liquid water cannot exist on LHS 1140b’s surface.

The research team is also hopeful that LHS 1140b may have regained or retained an atmosphere. According to the study published in the journal Nature, this could be possible if the planet trapped steam generated by magma oceans that may have boiled on its surface in the distant past. The researchers have also added that the LHS 1140 system might prove to be a better candidate for the future characterization of planets in the habitable zone as compared to TRAPPIST-1 or Proxima b.

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