Apr 07, 2017 05:24 AM EDT
For the first time, astronomers have discovered atmosphere around a planet that is similar to Earth that could support water. They studied the planet called GJ 1132b, which is 1.4-times the size of Earth. It lies 39 light years away.
The study was published in the Astronomical Journal. The so called super-Earth is cloaked in a thick layer of gasses. Researchers suspect it is either water, methane or a mixture of both.
The discovery of the planet has been hailed as an important step forward in detecting life beyond our Solar System. However, it is unlikely that the planet is habitable because it has the surface temperature of 370C.
BBC reported, Dr. John Southworth, lead author from Keele University, said the hottest temperature that life has been able to survive on Earth is 120C, which is far cooler compared to GJ 1132b. It was first discovered in 2015 and lies in the Vela constellation in the southern hemisphere.
GJ 1132b has a similar size to Earth, but the star it orbits is much smaller, cooler and dimmer than our Sun. The researchers were able to study the planet using the GROND imager telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, News.com.au reported. They watched how it blocked some of the light of its host star as it passed in front of it.
If the planet has different molecules in its atmosphere, it clearly absorbs light in different ways. It allowed the scientists to look for chemical signatures when the world transits its star. The researcher's observation of planet GJ 1132b suggests that it has a thick atmosphere that contains either steam and/or methane.
Dr. Southworth said one possibility is that it is a water world that has an atmosphere of hot steam. Researchers said it is unlikely that any life-forms could survive on the planet but the discovery of its atmosphere is encouraging them to hunt for extraterrestrial life. There are many planets in the Universer that are around low mass stars that can possibly have atmospheres, which makes it much more likely that one might have life.
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