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Most habitable planets may lack dry land

Most habitable planets may lack dry land

Abuja - A newly discovered planet sitting in a solar system just 39 light years away has been dubbed one of the best targets for finding alien life, scientists have said.

This is what has allowed LHS 1140b to have most likely retained much of its atmosphere. 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. That's the assertion of one scientist, who predicts most of the exoplanets we find in habitable zones around their stars are nearly entirely covered in water.

Scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have discovered a new exoplanet which is their best bet in the search for alien life.

NASA announced the discovery earlier this year of seven Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone orbiting a star called TRAPPIST-1, but more study is needed to see if they could support life.

LHS 1140b, whose discovery is published in the journal Nature, orbits a so-called red dwarf star called LHS 1140 in the constellation of Cetus, the Sea Monster.

Although 40 light years is not that distant in galactic terms (relatively speaking), it is still far enough away to make it very hard to gauge the exoplanet's habitability.

In April, astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy detected atmosphere around Gliese 1132b, the first time an atmosphere was detected around a low-mass super-Earth.

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"The LHS 1140 system might prove to be an even more important target for the future characterization of planets in the habitable zone than Proxima b or TRAPPIST-1", predict research team members Xavier Delfosse and Xavier Bonfils.

"We originally thought it was just something amusing going on in the atmosphere", Harvard astronomer Jason Dittmann, the study's lead author, told Gizmodo.

Sometimes, telescopes can capture the sliver of sunlight passing through the planet's atmosphere, revealing information about the atmospheric chemical composition. However, although it sits 10 times closer to its star than Earth to our sun, it only receives about half the warmth our planet enjoys, making for an uncomfortably chilly world. When scientists are trying to peer into an alien atmosphere to look for signs of life, what they're actually doing is trying to see through it.

But LHS 1140b is exceptional because of its location.

But he's really excited about looking for gases like methane, ozone, and carbon dioxide using bigger, shinier tools that could become available in the next decades: the James Webb Space Telescope, the Giant Magellan Telescope, and the European Extremely Large Telescope, among others. "Our understanding of the development of life may be far from complete, but it is not so dire that we must adhere to the conventional approximation that all habitable planets have an equal chance of hosting intelligent life", Simpson said.

"I hope that we can go after both of these systems' atmospheres so that we can compare them to each other", Dittmann said. We also expect - and hope to check with future data - that the star is very quiet at high energies as well.

More observations using the Hubble Space Telescope are underway and the researchers are already using everything they can to study the planet and its atmosphere.

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