Scientists have discovered an Earth-sized planet about 39 light-years away.
The planet’s average temperature, they estimate, is about 500 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that it almost certainly cannot sustain water, which is necessary for the existence of life. The planet is being dubbed GJ1132b and most likely has another issue regarding its habitability: one half of the planet permanently faces its star, similar to the way the moon faces Earth.
It was discovered during routine telescope observation at MEarth-South Observatory. The Harvard University led array of telescopes is in Chile. The robotic telescopes have been regularly scanning the area of GJ1132b since early 2014 and in May of this year detected a dimness in a star called GJ1132. Then the telescope began looking at the area in faster intervals of 45 seconds, and eventually was able to image the planet in question. After observation, scientists were able to notice that about once every 1.6 days, the star dimmed. This led them to suspect that a planet was orbiting the star.
They then were able to judge based on the amount of the star that is covered with each orbit that the planet is about 1.2 times the size of Earth. Looking at the wobble of GJ1132, they determined that the planet likely has about 1.6 times the mass of Earth. But they were also able to surmise other things which very much differentiate the planet from Earth.
For one, it’s extremely hot all the time, so hot that water would evaporate on a constant basis. This makes the planet hosting life now or in the future rather unlikely. Nonetheless, readers may be surprised to learn that most planets like this one are much hotter, by thousands of degrees.
At the same time, the planet most likely has an atmosphere similar to earth’s, due to the fact that it’s cool enough to retain one. Lead researcher Zachory Berta-Thompson told MIT News:
This planet is cool enough that it can retain an atmosphere. So we think this planet probably still has something of a substantial atmosphere, in its current state.
He went on to say that the research is pioneering and exciting in terms of astronomy. For the first time, data is able to be compiled on planets 39 light-years away with some degree of accuracy.
We think it’s the first opportunity we have to point our telescopes at a rocky exoplanet and get that kind of detail, to be able to measure the color of its sunset, or the speed of its winds, and really learn how rocky planets work out there in the universe. Those will be exciting observations to make.
Image from Shutterstock.