Apr 10, 2017 10:47 AM EDT
An atmosphere wrapped around an exoplanet called Gliese 1132b (GJ 1132b) has been identified. It is located almost 39 light-years away in a constellation that is called Vela.
The discovery is of special importance to those interested in alien life. It is the first time that some sort of atmosphere has been found around an exoplanet that has a mass and radius like the Earth's. For those who are searching for signs of extraterrestrial life, this is a big discovery.
"With this research, we have taken the first tentative step into studying the atmospheres of smaller, Earth-like, planets," said Lead researcher John Southworth from Keele University in the UK on the exoplanet, according to Science Alert. "The planet is significantly hotter and a bit larger than Earth, so one possibility is that it is a 'water world' with an atmosphere of hot steam."
The exoplanet is thought to have some "'water world' with an atmosphere of hot steam" almost 1.6 times as big as the Earth's. Its radius is also 1.4 times bigger. However, its complete similarity or habitability to the earth is still not clear. The new exoplanet's surface temperature of 370 degrees Celsius (698 degrees Fahrenheit) sounds pretty uninhabitable. The planet orbits the red dwarf star Gliese 1132. This was the star that Southworth and his group studied.
They used the ESO/MPG telescope in Chile. When they assessed the dimming of brightness in its seven wavelengths of light, they found that the GJ1132b exoplanet went by the host star after every 1.6 Earth days. This gave them a good idea of the planet's size as well as composition.
The exoplanet looked bigger when it was examined in one type of infrared wavelength of light. Hence, it showed an atmosphere opaque to such wavelengths. After examining various versions of the atmosphere, scientists saw an atmosphere rich in water and methane.
The GJ 1132b exoplanet is orbiting a host star that is a low-mass red dwarf. It seems to be a star that is very common in the Universe and tends to host small, Earth-like planets. However, such stars are also aggressive and could blast with massive solar flares the planets around them. Research has shown that activity like this could evaporate the planet's atmosphere, according to The Astronomical Journal.
It has also been found that such an atmosphere can tolerate flares for billions of years and still not get destroyed. Hence, it is possible that there are thousands of such exoplanets that are revolving around low-mass stars. They too could be having such atmospheres.
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