Move over, TRAPPIST-1 and Proxima Centauri b. A recently found exoplanet has astronomers even more excited, as it appears that this new world might be the best place to look for signs of life beyond our solar system.
“This is the most exciting exoplanet I’ve seen in the past decade,” Jason Dittmann of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), lead author of a new paper in Nature, said in a statement. “We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science — searching for evidence of life beyond Earth.”
The exoplanet, named LHS 1140b, is located in the habitable zone of a faint red dwarf star located just 40 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation of Cetus. Dittman and his team were able to determine the planet is a so-called “super-Earth” — a planet between the size of Earth and Neptune.
The planet was found using the transit method. When a planet transits or passes in front of its star, it blocks a small portion of the star’s light, like a mini eclipse. By measuring how much light LHS 1140b blocks, the team determined the planet is about 11,000 miles (18,000 km) in diameter, or about 40 percent larger than Earth.