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Newly discovered Earth-sized exoplanet is closest to date

by Brandon Russell | November 15, 2015November 15, 2015 6:00 am PDT

exoplanet-gj-1132b

Scientists have discovered a new Earth-sized planet that’s just 39 light-years away—practically next door. But don’t start planning a vacation to visit just yet. The planet’s surface temperature is too hot for life, though it’s still cool enough to contain an atmosphere. So what’s the big deal? It gives scientists a place to look for more Earth-like planets that are conducive to life.

“If we find this pretty hot planet has managed to hang onto its atmosphere over the billions of years it’s been around, that bodes well for the long-term goal of studying cooler planets that could have life,” said Zachary Berta-Thompson from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We finally have a target to point our telescopes at.”

The planet, dubbed GJ 1132b, is about 16 percent larger than Earth, and features a surface temperature that scientists describe as “burnt-cookie hot.” You know, some people might actually prefer that to the impending chill of winter.

“It’s too hot to be habitable,” Berta-Thompson said. “There’s no way there’s liquid water on the surface. But it is a lot cooler than the other rocky planets that we know of.”

Although GJ 1132b isn’t hospitable, it does give scientists hope that more nearby Earth-like planets are out there. One of them has to be an exact replica of Earth, right? GJ 1132b also gives scientists a better understanding of the kind of atmospheres that are out there in space, which will in turn increase our knowledge of potential habitability around the universe.

“We think it’s the first opportunity to point our telescopes at a rocky exoplanet and get that kind of detail, to be able to measure the color of its sunset, or the speed of its winds, and really learn how rocky planets work out there in the universe,” said Berta-Thompson. “Those will be exciting observations to make.”

MIT

Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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