Scientists discover an alien planet just 39 light years away
Scientists and astronomers have discovered a new planet, located just 39 light years away. The planet is the closest rocky exoplanet discovered outside of the solar system, and it promises to gives us our best look yet at an alien world that isn’t all that different from Earth.
The planet, known as GJ 1132b, is roughly 16-percent larger than Earth, and it orbits a small, dim star roughly one-fifth the size of our sun.
The planet orbits the red dwarf star once every 1.6 Earth day. It’s located just 1.4 million miles from the star; to put that in perspective, Mercury is 35.98 million miles from our sun, reaching temperatures of more than 800° Fahrenheit.
Despite the nearness to the star, the temperature on GJ 1132b is roughly 500 degrees. That makes it too hot to contain liquid, but it may have an atmosphere. What makes this discovery so exciting is that we won’t have to guess about that atmosphere – it’s near enough that we can actually observe it.
Drake Deming, an astronomer at the University of Maryland and co-author of the paper published in Nature discussing the planet, described this as “arguably the most important planet ever found outside the solar system.”
The planet was first detected in May 2014, when the astronomers noticed a change in brightness coming from a nearby red dwarf. After closer investigation, they were able to determine the planet’s orbit, its distance from the star, and its density. They then confirmed it using conventional telescopes.
“Our best guess is that this planet looks like Venus,” Berta-Thompson, one of the authors on the study said. “But we won’t have to guess for long. This is the first rocky planet for which we have the chance to go out and observe its atmosphere.”
The planet was discovered using an array of eight, 16-inch wide robotic operated by Harvard, located in the mountains of Chile. Those are relatively small telescopes though. Now that we know where to look, astronomers can begin to train larger devices on the planet.
The astronomers that discovered the planet will get their chance, but it might be a few years from now. They are waiting for the launch of Hubble’s replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope, which launches in October 2018.
When it does, we may get our first good look at an alien planet.