Scientists have made an astonishing discovery in Earth's celestial neighborhood.
Scientists have just discovered something stunning not far from Earth’s own celestial neighborhood, and it could be a vital find in the search for alien life. A super-Earth exoplanet is orbiting a red dwarf star just 39 light years from us, and scientists have officially confirmed that it has its own atmosphere, a huge first in astronomy.
Scientists figured this out by measuring the small shifts in stellar light as planet 1132b crossed over the red dwarf star it circles around, and they were able to do this thanks to data from the European Southern Observatory’s telescope and the GROND imager. It’s far from a confirmation of alien life, but it is a huge find as any planet supporting life would likely need an Earth-like atmosphere to protect that life from its sun’s punishing rays.
It’s also impossible to tell if the atmosphere’s chemical composition is conducive to life. But the discovery of a planet with any atmosphere is a groundbreaking find, and could lead to discoveries of other planets.
“The distant planet GJ 1132b intrigued astronomers when it was discovered last year,” the 2016 Harvard statement reads. “Located just 39 light-years from Earth, it might have an atmosphere despite being baked to a temperature of around 450 degrees Fahrenheit. But would that atmosphere be thick and soupy or thin and wispy? New research suggests the latter is much more likely.
“Orbiting so close to its star, at a distance of just 1.4 million miles, the planet is flooded with ultraviolet or UV light. UV light breaks apart water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, both of which then can be lost into space. However, since hydrogen is lighter it escapes more readily, while oxygen lingers behind.”