Newly Found 'Super-Earth' Said to Potentially Sustain Life

Scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have discovered a new exoplanet which is their best bet in the search for alien life. Dubbed LHS 1140b, the planet was first spotted in September 2014 by a group of telescopes in the mountains of northern Chile.

Wikimedia Commons/ESO/spaceengine.orgThis artist's impression shows the exoplanet LHS 1140b, which orbits a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth.

The unique quality of LHS 1140b is that it sits within the "Goldilocks Zone" or the liquid water habitable zone of a star, which is considered the best place to find evidence of some form of life. It also makes the planet not too hot, not too cold and not too far away either at only 40 light years away.

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. It could well have liquid water on its surface, the fundamental property needed for life to exist. Its atmosphere will be examined to determine its habitability.

"Right now we're just making educated guesses about the content of this planet's atmosphere," said 29-year-old Jason Dittmann, the study's lead author. "Future observations might enable us to detect the atmosphere of a potentially habitable planet for the first time. We plan to search for water, and ultimately molecular oxygen."

Other information is its mass which is 6.6 times that of the Earth, giving it a gravitational pull three times stronger, making a 167-pound person feel like 500 pounds on this planet. It's also much dimmer, getting only about 0.46 times as much light from its parent star compared to how much the Earth receives from the sun.

"This planet will be an excellent target for the James Webb Space Telescope when it launches in 2018, and I'm especially excited about studying it with the ground-based Giant Magellan Telescope, which is under construction," said co-author David Charbonneau.