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Newly Discovered 'Super-Earth' Exoplanet May Be the Best Candidate to Search for Alien Life

Apr 20, 2017 09:59 AM EDT

The European Space Observatory (ESO) announced that a newly discovered exoplanet orbiting a dwarf star, tagged as "super-Earth" might be the best candidate in the search for alien life.

The exoplanet LHS 1140b, also called super-Earth, was discovered in a habitable zone 40 light-years away from Earth. It may be the best place to look for signs of life outside the Solar System. ESO used its HARPS instrument backed up with other observatories around the globe to identify the new exoplanets.

The super-Earth orbits its dwarf star LHS 1140 located in the constellation Cetus or the Sea Monster, according to Science Daily. Although it is larger compared to Earth, experts believe that the exoplanet has retained its atmosphere, making the conditions suitable for alien life. Another intriguing characteristic is that the exoplanet orbits its star while transiting in front of it at the same them.

"This planet is really close to us: If we shrank the Milky Way to the size of the United States, LHS 1140 and the sun would fit inside Central Park," David Charbonneau, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told The New York Times.

LHS 1140b may be bigger than Earth, but its star is smaller and cooler compared to the center of the Solar System. However, the newly discovered exoplanet is 10 times closer to its own star compared to Earth's proximity to the Sun. It also receives lesser sunlight compared to Earth but makes up for it through its location in the middle of the habitable zone.

Scientists consider the super-Earth's odd behavior interesting. The transiting rocky exoplanet passes by its sun's every orbit and blocks a little of its light every 25 days. According to Futurism, LHS 1440b is an even more important target when it comes to searching for alien life compared to TRAPPIST-1.

"This is the most exciting exoplanet I've seen in the past decade," lead author Jason Dittmann of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said in a press release. "We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science - searching for evidence of life beyond Earth."

Despite some of its difference with planet Earth, scientists believe that the newly discovered super-Earth LHS 1140b might still be favorable for alien lifeforms, making it the best candidate in search of life outside the Solar System.

Dittman and his team's study is published in the journal Nature.

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