Another nearby planet found that may be just right for life

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Another nearby planet found that may be just right for life

In this artist tendering provided by M. Weiss Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a newly-discovered rocky exoplanet, LHS 1140b.

This planet is located in the liquid water habitable zone surrounding its host, a small, faint red star named LHS 1140.

"The next step will be to find out if this planet has an atmosphere and to look for things that are familiar to us - oxygen, CO2, ozone or water".

WASHINGTON (AP) — Astronomers have found yet another planet that seems to have just the right Goldilocks combination for life: Not so hot and not so cold. Several have been found in the habitable zone of their stars through NASA's Kepler and K2 missions, although they are farther away and could later be proven to be gaseous. Using ESO's HARPS instrument at La Silla, and other telescopes around the world, an worldwide team of astronomers discovered this super-Earth orbiting in the habitable zone around the faint star LHS 1140.

It's the fifth such life-possible planet outside our solar system revealed in less than a year.

"It is astonishing to live in a time when discovery of potentially habitable worlds is not only common place but proliferating", said MIT astronomer Sara Seager, who was not part of the study.

The MEarth-South telescope array, located on Cerro Tololo in Chile, searches for planets by monitoring the brightness of nearby, small stars.

'The LHS 1140 system might prove to be an even more important target for the future characterisation of planets in the habitable zone than Proxima b or TRAPPIST-1, ' two members of the global team, Drs Xavier Delfosse and Xavier Bonfils, said.

They have called it LHS 1140b and said that it probably formed in its current location in a similar way to our planet. But finding a super-Earth with a rocky composition is pretty rare, and the fact that it's in the habitable zone makes the discovery even sweeter.

"This planet will be an excellent target for the James Webb Space Telescope when it launches in 2018, and I'm especially excited about studying it with the ground-based Giant Magellan Telescope, which is under construction", said co-author David Charbonneau of the CfA.

Outside astronomers have already put this new planet near the top of their must-see lists for new ground and space-based telescopes.

Exoplanet discoveries in the past decade have made it clear there are plenty of other solar systems, but in the previous year we've increasingly spotted new worlds that indicate there may be plenty of other Earths out there too.

What makes LHS 1140b notable is that it is not bombarded with as much high-energy radiation that batters other planets around similar stars.

Just because LHS 1140b shares a few key traits with Earth doesn't mean this planet is exactly like ours, though. It's 40 percent wider than Earth but it has 6.6 times Earth's mass, giving it a gravitational pull three times stronger, Charbonneau said. A person weighing 167 pounds would feel like 500 pounds.

When it comes to the search for planets outside our Solar System, also called exoplanets, astronomers have been particularly interested in super-Earths like LHS 1140b. "Future observations might enable us to detect the atmosphere of a potentially habitable planet for the first time". The next largest planets in our solar system are gaseous, like Uranus and Neptune.

The latest discoveries have their founders at odds over which of the planets are the most promising. Now, a "super-Earth" has been found 39 light-years away, according to new research in the journal Nature.

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