Astronomers discover 'Super-Earth' planet that could support life

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/astronomers-discover-super-ea
BYDavid Boroff
An artist's rendering shows the newly-discovered LHS 1140b planet.

It could be just like Earth, except bigger.

Astronomers have discovered another planet that could support life, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

It's the fifth such life-possible planet outside our solar system revealed in less than a year.

This new planet is rocky, like Earth, and has the right temperatures for water, according to the study. Rocky planets within the habitable zone of a star are considered the best place to find evidence of some form of life.

Give us a buzz, Trappist-1's planets

"This is the first one where we actually know it's rocky," said Harvard astronomer David Charbonneau, a co-author of the study. "We found a planet that we can actually study that might be actually Earth-like."

Seven mostly Earth-sized planets were previously found circling a star called Trappist-1.

(NASA / HANDOUT/EPA)

The latest discovery, called LHS 1140b, regularly passes in front of its star, allowing astronomers to measure its size and mass. That makes astronomers more confident that this one is rocky, compared to other discoveries.

The new planet is 40% wider than Earth but it has 6.6 times Earth's mass, giving it a gravitational pull three times stronger, according to Charbonneau. A person weighing 167 pounds would feel like 500 pounds.

In the next few years, telescopes should be able to use the planet's path to examine its atmosphere, Charbonneau said. If scientists see both oxygen and some carbon in an atmosphere, that's a good sign.

NASA scientists hope to make Pluto a planet again

Astronomers have now identified 52 potentially habitable planets and more than 3,600 planets outside our solar system. The first planet outside our solar system was discovered in 1995.

An artist rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope that NASA plans to launch in 2018.

(NASA)

"It is astonishing to live in a time when discovery of potentially habitable worlds is not only common place but proliferating," said MIT astronomer Sara Seager, who was not part of the study.

The new discovery belongs to a class of planets called super-Earths that are more massive than Earth but not quite the size of giants Neptune or Jupiter.

"With this discovery we have a world similar to Earth in some aspects, and dissimilar in some others," Amaury Triaud of the University of Cambridge, who was not involved with the research, told USA Today. "This is quite thrilling."

Why the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanet discovery matters

The new planet was found using eight small telescopes in Chile and help from an amateur planet-hunter, according to Charbonneau. It is located in the constellation Cetus, 39 light years or 230 trillion miles away.

With News Wire Services

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