Scientists are studying a rocky Earth-like planet, and they say it could be “the most important planet ever found outside the solar system,” the Guardian reports. Located in the Vela constellation in our southern skies, GJ 1132b may not have a very exciting name, but measurements detailing its atmosphere, surface winds and chemical composition could lead to groundbreaking new insights.

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GJ 1132b is 16 percent larger than Earth and orbits a red dwarf star that is only one fifth the size of our sun. It is 39 lightyears away, making it three times closer than any other Earth-like planet orbiting a star. The planet’s close orbit to its sun – taking 1.6 days for one go-around – was noticed by researchers at the Chilean Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory, using their MEarth-South array of eight robotic telescopes.

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While the planet’s 260 degree Celsius surface temperatures are too hot to be hospitable for life as we know it, scientists believe it still has an atmosphere and are optimistic about the wealth of knowledge that can be gained from studying GJ 1132b. This could serve as practice for other future discoveries.

Zachory Berta-Thompson of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research explains, “If this planet still has an atmosphere, then we might find other, cooler planets that also have atmospheres and orbit small stars. We can then imagine interrogating the atmospheres for molecules that come from life.”

The planet is already a target for future telescope missions, including the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018 and the Giant Magellan Telescope in 2025.

Via The Guardian

Images via Wikimedia (1,2)