An Atmosphere is Discovered Around a Nearby Earth-Like Planet
While we've never found a planet that's exactly like Earth (and we probably won't for a long time), we've been getting closer. Just over a month after the discovery of TRAPPIST-1 when seven Earth-like planets were found, scientists have found another nearby Earth-like planet, and this one contains an atmosphere.
The Astronomical Journal recently published the findings about exoplanet GJ 1132b, which is about 1.4 times the size of the Earth and exists 39 light years away, close enough to be studied using telescopes. The atmosphere seems to consists of water, methane, or a mix of both - the lead researcher from Keele University, Dr. John Southworth, suspects the planet might be an uninhabitable "water-world" filled with steam. Still, Southworth is optimistic about what this discovery means for the future:
This discovery brings us much closer toward finding habitable planets capable of harboring alien life. Don't hold your breath for any GJ 1132b alien life announcements though; the planet is 698 degrees Fahrenheit (370 degrees Celsius) while no known Earth life can survive over 248 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees Celsius). And that's not the only deterrent.
The GJ 1132b orbits an M dwarf Star, of which there are no shortages of in the galaxy. M dwarf stars are known for being active with flares and eruptions, the kind of activity that can obliterate the atmospheres of nearby planets. The GJ 1132b is quite close to its M dwarf, completing an orbit in just 1.6 days. This could mean that its newly discovered atmosphere has a daunting expiration date or alternatively, that M dwarfs are less explosive than originally thought.
With the aid of NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) coming out later this year, scientists should be able to find more nearby Earth-like planets and study their atmospheres with ease.