Atmosphere has been Discovered on a Nearby Earth-Size Exoplanet

In an unprecedented discovery, scientists have discovered an atmosphere around a planet outside our solar system.

It’s called GJ 1132b. GJ is in orbit around a red dwarf star 39 light years away. It’s a little bit bigger than Earth, with a radius of 1.4 times more and 1.6 Earth masses.

When they first discovered it, they called it a potential Venus because it’s a rocky world with a high surface temperature, hot enough to melt lead.

Like Venus, this exoplanet also has an atmosphere, but composed of different elements.

Researchers have discovered atmospheres in gas giants, Jupiter sized exoplanets, and super-Earths, 8 times the mass of Earth, this is the first time they’ve seen one around an Earth sized planet.

By studying exoplanet atmospheres, they hope to be able to determine if they can support life as we know it on Earth.

Although it’s not proof of life, it certainly an important step towards it.

Astronomers didn’t see the planet directly. They measured the way the star light dipps when the exoplanet passed in front of it, which happens every 1.6 Earth days.

The odd thing is that when this exoplanet passes in front of it’s sun, one of the wavelengths dipps more than the others.

Earth’s atmosphere is mostly nitrogen with a lot of oxygen, and Venus is a essentially a runaway greenhouse effect, made up mostly of carbon dioxide. GJ 1132b has an atmosphere rich in water vapour or methane. It could be a hot steamy water world.

What’s really cool is that the type of star it’s orbiting is the most common in our galaxy, and happens to be 20 of the 30 nearest stars to Earth.

These star types are very active, and send flares and streams of particles smashing into nearby planets. But, if this planet can be so close and still have an atmosphere, then it means there may be a lot of habitable worlds in the Universe.

Telescopes are going to zoom in to study GJ 1132b, including Hubble, the European Space Agency’s Very Large Telescope, and next years James Webb Space Telescope.

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