Despite some of its difference with planet Earth, scientists believe that the newly discovered super-Earth LHS 1140b might still be favorable for alien lifeforms, making it the best candidate in search of life outside the Solar System. LHS 1140b could provide an opportunity for some of the first observations. So are a group of seven mostly Earth-sized planets in or near the habitable zone found circling a star called Trappist-1 earlier this year, but it in a different direction.
Regarding the age of the planet, the authors of the study said that it probably formed in a manner similar to Earth and its star is probably 5 billion years old, about the same age as the Sun, although the age of M-class stars is hard to determine for a variety of factors, the Spanish researcher added.
Astronomers have found yet another planet that seems to have just the right Goldilocks combination for life: Not so hot and not so cold. Releasing the results of their preliminary research of LHS 1140b in this week's Nature, Dittmann is hopeful at the prospect of finding life on this distant planet, a feat which has yet to be reached by the scientific community.
The super-Earth and its parent star are located in the constellation Cetus, the Whale, 39 light years from the Sun, thus - relatively speaking - putting it in our galactic "neighbourhood", according to Felipe Murgas, the coauthor of the study and a researcher with Spain's Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics.
The newfound world is described as a rocky "Super-Earth" because it is 40 percent larger than Earth with a diameter of 11,322 miles. "So, at least in the present day, LHS 1140b finds itself orbiting a very nice, quiet host star".
"We originally thought it was just something amusing going on in the atmosphere", Harvard astronomer Jason Dittmann, the study's lead author, told Gizmodo. Depicted in blue is the atmosphere the planet may have retained.
The habitable zone is also dependent on the type of star the planet orbits.
An artist's conception shows Kepler-22b, an exoplanet that orbits a Sun-like star within a habitable zone.
The TRAPPIST-1 planets are also smaller and one has already been proven not to be rocky through a density measurement.
Scientists expect observations with the Hubble Space Telescope will soon allow them to assess how much high-energy radiation the exoplanet receives, and further into the future - with the help of new telescopes like ESO's Extremely Large Telescope and the James Webb Telescope - detailed observations of the atmospheres of exoplanets will be possible.
"We are multiplying opportunities for looking for the place where life may have emerged elsewhere in the Universe", he said.
Still, studying LHS-1140b will mainly be for the future.
"What I truly find exciting is that we have a potentially habitable, rocky planet orbiting a nearby star that is now very calm and stable and doesn't flare", Dittmann said.
"I hope that we can go after both of these systems' atmospheres so that we can compare them to each other", Dittmann said. "We've been delighted to hear about the discovery of LHS by our colleagues from Harvard", he said.
However, red dwarfs in their infancy are hell furnaces that quickly burn up much of the star's resources.