Today researchers at Harvard-Smithsonian made an exciting announcement: a newly discovered planet may be the best candidate yet for finding life outside of our solar system. Earlier this year, scientists identified seven planets orbiting a star that looked ideally-placed for hosting life, but we really don’t know enough about those planets to say with any real conviction. On the other hand, LHS 1140b is close enough that we have more data, which gives it even more potential as a site for alien life.
Researchers at Harvard-Smithsonian say that LHS 1140b stands out because of its dimensions. “What really sets this planet apart from others that have been discovered is that we know the mass and the radius of the planet,” said Jason Dittmann, a researcher at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The exoplanet is in the Cetus constellation, which is relatively close at just 40 light years away.
LHS 1140b is large enough to have the gravity it needs to have an atmosphere, and it orbits a star right within the habitable zone. It also has a circular orbit, which means it is a safer place for life to form since there are fewer collisions and extremes compared to planets with oblong orbits.
The exoplanet is closer to its star than Earth, with an orbit of just 25 days, but its star is much cooler than our own. The findings were published in the journal Nature, and scientists hope to gather more info soon about the exoplanet with future studies using new James Webb telescope technology.