New Potentially Habitable Planet Discovered

Helen Hill for EAPS News, Thursday, April 20, 2017

Potentially Habitable Super-Earth Identified as New Target for Atmospheric Study.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, scientists could only postulate at the existence of planets orbiting other suns. Today, the race is on to find the first with signs of life, and it's hot.

With so many planets out there, the observational exoplanetary-science community is fiercely focused on identifying the most promising candidates for the next phase of their search, for the select few that will be first-in-line to command time on advanced new space-born and larger ground-based telescopes, scheduled to come online in the next few years. Scientists hope by observing the atmospheres of these planets they will be able to detect biochemical signatures of life.

Now, as reported in the April 20 issue of Nature, incoming Inaugural Heising-Simons Pegasi B Fellow Jason Dittmann, together with former colleagues at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), report discovering a "Super Earth" candidate orbiting in the habitable zone of a nearby small star. The newly identified planet joins Proxima Centauri band the TRAPPIST planetary candidates reported in February, at the top of the list of most promising potentially habitable planets scientists have so far identified.

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Publication: J.A. Dittmann et al., A temperate rocky super-Earth transiting a nearby cool star

Story Image: An artist’s impression of the newly-discovered rocky exoplanet, LHS 1140b. This planet is located in the liquid water habitable zone surrounding its host star, a small, faint red star named LHS 1140. The planet weighs about 6.6 times the mass of Earth and is shown passing in front of LHS 1140. Depicted in blue is the atmosphere the planet may have retained. Credit: M. Weiss/CfA