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Exoplanet Around Cool Star May Harbor Alien Life

First Posted: Apr 21, 2017 06:10 AM EDT
Exoplanet LHS 1140b – A Potentially Habitable Super-Earth?
Some 39 light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Cetus, a red dwarf star is orbited by a super-Earth. LHS 1140b lies in the middle of the habitable zone and has 1.4 times the radius and 6.6 times the mass of Earth. LHS 1140b likely retained most of its atmosphere.
(Photo : SciNews/YouTube screenshot)

Astronomers have been trying to find planets that could possibly harbor alien life. While there are many candidates, an Earth-like planet orbiting a small, cool star could be the best candidate by far.

The "Super-Earth" planet is said to be about six times the mass of the Earth and orbits close around LHS 1140, a red dwarf star. According to the study published on Nature, it is situated just 40 light-years away from Earth and is said to be in the "Goldilocks region." This term is a reference to the childhood story and is taken to mean that the planet is orbiting the star in a place that is neither too hot nor too cold.

So far, there have been nearly 3,500 exoplanets discovered, and the number is growing daily. For instance, in February 2014 alone, NASA discovered 715 new planets thanks to the Kepler telescope. 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. Not only is the planet close by but the star LHS-1140b is orbiting around is also dim, which means that it will be fairly visible from telescopes.

"The star is close, and small, and quiet, in terms of flares and activity," Dr. Jason A. Dittman, one of the authors of the study, told Buzzfeed News. As far as possible life is concerned, LHS-1140b is ticking all the requirements. Dittman noted that he and his team are going to try to study the planet with the telescopes that exist now, including the Hubble Space Telescope and some of the other big, ground-based telescopes.

Still, studying LHS-1140b will mainly be for the future. He mentioned that more sources of information could be gathered with the help of the James Webb Space Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will be launched in 2018 and commissioned in 2022, respectively.

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