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SPACE: Could This Exoplanet Support Life?

Credit: Jack Madden/Cornell University 

Astronomers have found a nearby “super-Earth” exoplanet that may be capable of supporting life as we know it.

An international group of astronomers discovered the planet using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) earlier this year in the constellation Hydra, about 31 light-years from Earth, according to a statement by NASA. (One light-year is the distance light travels in a year, about 6 trillion miles, or 10 trillion kilometers.)

The exoplanet, named GJ 357 d, is believed to be around twice the size of Earth and harbor six times Earth’s mass. Located in the outer edge of its host star’s “habitable zone,” scientists believe that this super-Earth could have water on its surface.

“If the planet has a dense atmosphere, which will take future studies to determine, it could trap enough heat to warm the planet and allow liquid water on its surface,” Diana Kossakowski, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, and co-author of the recent study, said in the statement.

The potentially habitable planet and two neighboring worlds were found orbiting around a dwarf star, around a third the size and mass of our own sun and 40% cooler. TESS noticed that the light coming from this small star dims slightly every 3.9 days — a clue that an exoplanet may be transiting its face.

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