WASHINGTON, 12th November, 2015 (WAM) — A rocky Earth-sized planet that orbits a small, nearby star could be the most important world ever found beyond the solar system, astronomers say.
The planet lies in the constellation of Vela in the southern sky, and is close enough for telescopes to observe any atmosphere it has, a procedure that could help spot life on other planets in the future, reported The Guardian.
Named GJ 1132b, the alien world is about 16% larger than Earth, and at 39 light years distant, is three times closer than any other Earth-sized rocky planet yet found around another star. At that distance, it is hoped that telescopes will be able to make out the chemistry of its atmosphere, the speed of its winds and the colours of its sunsets.
Astronomers spotted the planet as it moved across the face of a red dwarf star only a fifth the size of the sun. Though much cooler and fainter than the sun, GJ 1132b orbits so close to its star that surface temperatures reach 260C.
The searing temperatures are too hot for the surface to retain liquid water, making it inhospitable to life, but not so hot as to burn off any atmosphere that formed on the planet.