A huge discovery just 39 light years from Earth could totally change the future search for alien life.
Scientists have just spotted something absolutely incredible in our own celestial neighborhood. They’ve found a large super-Earth exoplanet called 1132b orbiting a red dwarf star just 39 light years away that they believe could have its own atmosphere, which could be a game-changer in the search for life.
Scientists figured this out by measuring subtle shifts in stellar light as the planet crosses over the red dwarf, using data from the European Southern Observatory’s telescope and the GROND imager to bolster their claims. It’s not quite the same as discovery life, but finding a planet with an atmosphere like Earth’s is truly a major accomplishment, as it’s something scientists have never found before, even though they’ve found plenty of planets.
It’s hard to determine whether this atmosphere has a chemical composition conducive to life, obviously, but it’s still a big step that could lead to discoveries of other planets with atmospheres. An atmosphere is important because it protects the surface and potential life forms from radiation from the sun.
“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.”