By Brian Litterer
GJ1132b. This seemingly nonsensical combination of letters and numbers represents the Earth-sized planet that has been recently discovered.
The MEarth Project, run by Scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has announced the discovery of this rocky planet.
“Researchers used the MEarth-South array, a group of eight 40cm robotic telescopes at the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, to detect the planet,” said Ian Sample, science editor and contributor at The Guardian.
“As it whipped around its star, completing an orbit every 1.6 days, it produced a faint 0.3% dip in the starlight picked up by the telescopes, according to a report in Nature.”
GJ1132b is significantly closer to Earth than other discovered planets.
“The newly discovered planet has a surface temperature of approximately 226 C – about half that of Venus,” said Karolyn Coorsh, CTVNews reporter. “It is also only 39 lightyears away – three times closer to Earth than the next nearest planet.”
This recently discovered planet is located in the Vela constellation and is close enough to be studied via telescope.
“Astronomers spotted the planet as it moved across the face of a red dwarf star only a fifth the size of the sun,” said Sample. “Though much cooler and fainter than the sun, GJ 1132b orbits so close to its star that surface temperatures reach 260C.”
The ability for this planet’s atmosphere to be studied by telescope enables scientists to potentially spot life on other planets.
“The new planet is about 1.2 Earth radii and about 1.6 times the mass of Earth, with a density similar to that of Earth,” said Eva Botkin-Kowacki, The Christian Science Monitorstaff writer.
Despite these similarities in this new planet and Earth, GJ1132b’s temperature makes the planet unwelcoming to human life.
“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,” said Sample.
“The planet will become a prime target for future missions too, including the James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to launch in 2018, and the Giant Magellan Telescope, which is due to start operations in Chile in 2025.”
Whether or not this planet proves to be inhabitable for human life, it provides much for scientists learning about the atmosphere of smaller planets and how that can affect future discoveries and the possibility of life on another planet.
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