Researchers have discovered an incredibly rare “super earth” that could potentially hold the conditions to sustain human life. The planet was discovered by New Zealand astronomers who say that the planet “is one of only a handful that have been discovered with both size and orbit comparable to that of Earth.”
The team published their findings in a study in the Astronomical Journal.
The study estimated that the planet’s host star is roughly 10% the mass of our sun, with the planet having a larger mass than the planet Earth. It also orbits its star from a comparable distance of the earth from the sun. Still, despite these incredibly rare conditions, the researchers suggest that the planet could still be very cold because of the fact that its star is much smaller than the sun.
Study co-author Michael Abrow of New Zealand’s University of Canterbury told USA TODAY that, “Although it’s not too much bigger than Earth, and orbiting its star at a similar distance, this planet would be very cold because its star is smaller than the sun and emits much less light. Water could not exist in a liquid state, and the likelihood of life would be very low. Only a very few planets have been detected that may have suitable conditions for life.”
It may not seem like a huge deal, but the mass of the host star makes a huge difference, and not just with the temperature of the planet. Due to the mass of the host star, the planet would also have a “year” of about 617 days.
The study was led by Antonia Herrera-Martin of the University of Canterbury, who said that the team made their discovery using a technique called gravitational microlensing.
The combined gravity of the planet and its host star caused the light from a more distant background star to be magnified in a particular way. We used telescopes distributed around the world to measure the light-bending effect, he explained.
Few other specific details about the planet, such as its distance from our solar system, were not available in the abstract of the study that was published online.
Last year, a different team of researchers discovered a potentially habitable planet that contained water.
The findings were published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy.
The lead scientist, Prof Giovanna Tinetti of University College London (UCL) said that this planet seems to be in the perfect environment to sustain life, just like earth. Tinetti says that this is the first time that researchers were able to detect water on a planet that is in a habitable zone with temperatures in the proper range.
The habitable zone, also sometimes known as “goldilocks zone,” is the space around a star where the temperature is in just the right place to sustain liquid water and possibly even life. However, it will likely not be possible for humans to reach the planet anytime soon, and definitely not in our lifetime. Researchers estimate that the planet is roughly 111 light-years, or about 650 million-million miles from earth.