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Scientists identify 'Super Earth' that could contain water

By Sun Wenyu (People's Daily Online)    19:18, April 21, 2017
Scientists identify 'Super Earth' that could contain water
An artist’s impression shows a "Super Earth" passing across the faint red star known as LHS 1140.

According to Nature magazine and Space.com, scientists recently discovered a "Super Earth," a rocky planet that might contain water in liquid form. It could be the best chance of finding life outside the solar system.

Thousands of planets have been considered during the past two decades, but most failed to meet the requirements for a Super Earth. Most planets' temperatures are either too high or too low to mimic the natural environment of Earth. Even the TRAPPIST-1 system, which has seven terrestrial planets, cannot support life due to frequent and strong radiation.

This time, an M dwarf named LHS 1140 has been identified by Jason A. Dittmann and his colleagues from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics using a MEarth-South telescope array. The planet is 39 light years away from the sun, and scientists have also noted that LHS 1140b transits LHS 1140, suggesting that its circular orbit might have existed at the time it was formed.

The mass of the planet is estimated to be 6.6 times that of Earth, consistent with a rocky bulk composition. Because of mild "sunlight" and low radiation, the planet sits in the habitable zone of its parent star, and water may exist on its surface.

Dittmann said this is the most exciting exoplanet he has seen in the past decade, and he will collect data about its atmosphere using the Hubble Space Telescope. According to the research team, LHS 1140b is detectable using existing telescopes since its parent star is small and not far from Earth. Astronomers hope to soon prove the existence of an atmosphere surrounding the planet.

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