Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Astronomers discover new super Earth where there could be life.

The exoplanet is 40 light years away and orbits around the red dwarf star LHS 1140. Photo:

A team of astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysics Center discovered a super-terrain that could be promising in the quest for life beyond our solar system, according to the researchers on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 in the journal Nature.

The exoplanet is 40 light years away and orbits around the red dwarf star LHS 1140. So far about 30 such planets have been discovered outside the solar system.

But according to the team of Jason Dittman, who discovered the star, in this case give the best conditions for the search for an atmosphere and possible signs of life. "It's the most interesting planet I've met in the last few decades," Dittmann said in a statement.

"Future observations could allow us to verify for the first time the existence of an atmosphere of a potentially habitable planet. We plan to search for water and also molecules of oxygen."

Astronomers call super-Earths rocky planets that are larger than Earth and have much more mass but are not as large and heavy as the gaseous planet Uranus.

The exoplanet discovered by Dittmann and his team orbits around the star LHS 1140, in the constellation Cetus, has a diameter of about 18,000 kilometers and almost seven times the mass of the Earth.

The super-Earth orbits a relatively short distance from its dwarf star and completes a turn in 25 days. However, since the star is five times smaller than the Sun and emits less light, the orbiting of the exoplanet in question is in the so-called habitable zone, where temperatures allow the existence of liquid water.

Liquid water is a basic condition for the existence of life as we know it. However, there is no certainty that there is water in this exoplanet. Even if there was at the time of creation of the planet, about 5 billion years ago, the water could have evaporated, since by that time the dwarf orbiting star would be much more active.

This could make today an extreme greenhouse effect raise temperatures on the exoplanet to unbearable levels, as is the case with Venus. However, if the super-earth contained at least a part of the water in a liquid state or had recovered its water reserve, for example from an ancient lava ocean, the red dwarf would now offer the planet the conditions to be a place capable of harboring According to the European Southern Observatory (ESO), whose instruments were involved in the research.

The exoplanet is 40 light years away and therefore in the range of the new telescopes, which will allow to investigate if there is an atmosphere and if so its composition.

A light year is the distance that light travels in a year, that is, almost ten billion kilometers. To study the exoplanet astronomers take advantage of the moment in which - seen from Earth - passes in front of its star. During this kind of "minieclipse", the red dwarf would illuminate from behind the possible atmosphere of the superterrace.

Future telescopes such as the James Webb, which will start operating in 2018, or ESO's Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), will be able to deduce the chemical composition of the atmosphere by studying the way the light is filtered by the star.

Researchers have already deduced the composition of the atmospheres of the 55 Cancri superterrace and the Earth-sized exoplanet GJ 1132b with current instruments. 

However, in both the temperature is too high so that there is life. In the list of potentially habitable exoplanets there are currently 50 candidates, 20 of them Earth size and 30 superterras. In total, astronomers have already discovered 3,600 exoplanets in the Milky Way.

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