It's a groundbreaking finding that could represent a massive step forward in the search for alien life on other planets.
Astronomers have made a big find in a system located about 39 light years from Earth that could have incredible ramifications in our search for alien life. A super-Earth exoplanet known as 1132b that is orbiting a red dwarf star has been confirmed to have its own atmosphere, the first time scientists have made such a dramatic discovery.
Because any planet hosting life would probably need an atmosphere to protect that life from the sun’s punishing radiation, such a finding is major. They were able to determine that the planet has an atmosphere by measuring small shifts in stellar light when a planet cross in front of the red dwarf. They used data from the European Southern Observatory’s telescope, and the GROND imager.
While this isn’t confirmation, it’s certainly an important finding that could also introduce a new method to find other planets out there that may have atmospheres.
“The distant planet GJ 1132b intrigued astronomers when it was discovered last year,” a 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.
“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.”