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22 April 2017, 01:35 | Violet Powell
Newly discovered exoplanet may be the best place to search for extraterrestrial life
The present theory prevails that most of the water of our planet was delivered by asteroids and comets.
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.
Researchers discovered the planet using the transit method, which measures how much light a potential planet blocks as it crosses in front of a star. That means the little world is rocky, perhaps with a large iron core surrounded by a thin mantle-kind of like an overgrown Mercury, comments Laura Schaefer of Arizona State University.
"We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science - searching for evidence of life beyond Earth", said lead author Jason Dittmann, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Cambridge, USA).
Today, more than 3,400 planets are known to orbit other stars, and as telescopes and observing techniques have improved, an increasing number of new discoveries are these small, probably rocky worlds that cling to stars much smaller than the sun.
The exoplanet is closer to its star than Earth, with an orbit of just 25 days, but its star is much cooler than our own. Classified as an M dwarf star, this particular star is one-fifth the size of the sun.
Don't bet on humans finding aliens just walking around on another Earth-like planet - they'll more likely be swimming.
This also makes studying signals from the planets easier than around more active M-dwarfs. Both of these quantities may vary substantially across the full spectrum of water-bearing worlds, and why the Earth's values are so well balanced is an unresolved and long-standing conundrum.
It is also being said the larger planets are more prone to flooding compared to the smaller ones. These other planets could contain a smattering of rock but have surfaces smothered by thick shrouds of gas that are disastrous for complex life. For instance, in February 2014 alone, NASA discovered 715 new planets thanks to the Kepler telescope.
Their estimates reveal the exoplanet is at least 5 billion years old and 18,000 kilometers (or around 11,184 miles) in diameter, nearly 1.4 larger than that of Earth. If so, the cranky star might have blown away the planet's atmosphere with violent eruptions and obliterated any life-forms that could have evolved. The steam is thought to have escaped into the atmosphere, where it condensed and fell to the planet as rain. "We've been delighted to hear about the discovery of LHS by our colleagues from Harvard", he said.
Finally, LHS 1140b crosses the face of its star, which offers a prime view for astrobiologists. According to the current scientific understanding, the best way to find extraterrestrial life is to look for water. Starlight passing through the planet's atmosphere could reveal details about the chemical composition of its atmosphere. The star LHS 1140 is very different from our sun.
The Mearth array used to find LHS 1140b. 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. But the list of potentially habitable exoplanets is much shorter, topping out around a dozen.
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