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According to new research published in Nature, a newly discovered “super-Earth” sits just 39 light-years away in another solar system — and scientists are dubbing it one of the best exoplanets to potentially support alien life.
Its rocky surface and prime location its own solar system mean the exoplanet, LHS 1140b, potentially has liquid water — which means extraterrestrial life is possible too.
In the last year, a number of nearby exoplanets were discovered that scientists believe could be habitable to alien life, such as Proxima b and the seven Earth-sized TRAPPIST-1 planets.
But for many, LHS 1140b, also known as a “super-Earth,” is the most exciting exoplanet discovered yet.
Planets in our solar system that are larger than Earth, like Neptune and Uranus, are typically gaseous, Jason Dittmann, the lead study author and postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in his latest study. But he says his latest discovery has gone against that logic.
“It’s very interesting to me that we have just discovered a super-Earth right up against that boundary,” said Dittman. “The fact that the planet is rocky and in its star’s habitable zone also raises its intrigue, because we may now have a planet suitable for the search for life as well.”
Dittman and his team discovered LHS1140b by way of the transit method, in which the light of a star dims as a planet is crossing, or transiting, as viewed by Earth-bound instruments. The research team estimates the planet has a diameter of almost 11,000 miles.
“We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science—searching for evidence of life beyond Earth,” Dittman added.
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