An amazing new discovery right around the corner from our solar system could have huge implications in the search for life.
Astronomers have just made a major confirmation on a cosmic object they’ve found just 39 light years from Earth. They have determined that, yes, the super-Earth exoplanet known as 1132b that is orbiting a red dwarf star in our cosmic neighborhood does have an atmosphere similar to Earth’s.
Researchers determined this by measuring the small shifts in stellar light as the planet crossed hte face of the red dwarf. They studied data from the European Southern Observatory’s telescope and GROND imager to further confirm the presence of an atmosphere. That’s not the same as a detection of life, obviously, but it’s a huge step toward it.
It’s not surprisingly very difficulty to determine whether the chemical composition of the atmosphere is friendly to life, but it’s certainly possible. An atmosphere is necessary to protect life from the constant radiation punishment of its own sun.
“The distant planet GJ 1132b intrigued astronomers when it was discovered last year,” the 2016 Harvard statement reads. “Located just 39 light-years from Earth, it might have an atmosphere despite being baked to a temperature of around 450 degrees Fahrenheit. But would that atmosphere be thick and soupy or thin and wispy? New research suggests the latter is much more likely.
“Harvard astronomer Laura Schaefer (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, or CfA) and her colleagues examined the question of what would happen to GJ 1132b over time if it began with a steamy, water-rich atmosphere. Orbiting so close to its star, at a distance of just 1.4 million miles, the planet is flooded with ultraviolet or UV light. UV light breaks apart water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, both of which then can be lost into space. However, since hydrogen is lighter it escapes more readily, while oxygen lingers behind.”