Scientists discover a planet with the potential to support life | Smart News

These telesopes from the Atacama Desert in Chile were used to discover the new planet. The project also has telescopes in Tenerife, an island west of Morocco.
ESO/P. Horalek

Astronomers have observed a pair of exoplanets about 100 light-years from Earth, and they say one, which has never been seen before, is a strong candidate for supporting life.

“The outer planet is inside what’s called the habitable zone, much like Earth is,” Amaury Triaud, who studies exoplanets at the University of Birmingham in the UK and is part of the team that made the discovery, says new scientistit is Alex Wilkins.

A planet in the habitable zone of a star might have the conditions for liquid water to exist on its surface. Of all the exoplanets discovered in habitable zones so far, this one, says Triaud new scientistis the second-best candidate to host life, according to his calculations.

The team details its findings in a forthcoming paper in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The promising planet is about 40% larger than Earth and orbits its star about once every 8.5 days, according to a press release. Based on its size, “we expect the planet to be rocky,” says Laetitia Delrez, lead author of the paper and an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium. Reverseit is Kyona Smith. “We have yet to find exoplanets as small as 1.4 Earth radius that are not rocky.”

Delrez tells Reverse that the planet is also likely tied to its star by tides, meaning it’s always day on one side and always night on the other. It’s just 3.7 million miles from its sun, while Earth orbits 93 million miles from ours, writes NPR’s Dustin Jones.

Despite its proximity to the star around which it orbits, the exoplanet could still have conditions suitable for life, explains Francisco J. Pozuelos, co-author of the article and researcher at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia in Spain, in the press release. This is because the planet’s sun is only half the temperature of ours and about 6.5 times smaller.

Still, some traits could harm the planet’s potential habitability: It’s larger than Earth and it could receive a high level of radiation while orbiting near its star, which are two dots against it harboring life, Beth Biller , an astronomer at the University of Edinburgh in the UK who did not contribute to the research, says new scientist.

To discover the exoplanet, researchers used telescopes from a project called SPECULOOS, or Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars. First, they observed this distant solar system and confirmed the existence of another planet within it, which was first spotted by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey, or TESS, according to Reverse. This planet was too close to its star to support life, but further research revealed the second, more promising planet. Reverse reports.

TESS locates planets by measuring starlight levels. When a planet passes between a star and the satellite, TESS can detect starlight fading, writes NPR. Then SPECULOOS ground-based telescopes, which have greater sensitivity to infrared light, follow up to confirm the discovery. This second look is necessary because cool stars, like the one around which the newly discovered planet orbits, mainly emit infrared light, according to Espace.comit is Robert Lea.

Next, scientists hope to use the James Webb Space Telescope to find out what makes up the planet’s atmosphere, if it even has one. Using Webb, researchers could learn more about the exoplanet’s potential to host life, for Reverse.

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