Whether you are a scientist or just a science fiction geek, it is hard not to get excited whenever a new exoplanet is discovered. This is even truer when the planet in question has Earth-like characteristics and can possibly support alien life.
In recent years, scientists have started discovering planets like these on a monthly basis it seems. One of the more exciting discoveries happened in April of 2017 when they announced the existence of LHS 114ob. They believe that this planet has all the qualities of a “super-Earth.” This does not mean it has better conditions or more resources than our world, but that it is bigger in size. It looks as though the planet is about one-and-a-half-times bigger than Earth, around six-time denser and it is orbiting a red dwarf star. Also, it is relatively close to us, some 39 light-years away in the constellation Cetus.
This discovery was one of the most exciting developments in the last 10 years. It represents an ideal candidate for the discovery of life away from Earth.
In the past, researchers focused on finding suns similar to our own because those are the only ones that we know of that have produced life. That is also why scientists get excited when they find super-Earth planets. The word Earth-like is always going to generate excitement. These planets are usually rocky and have a somewhat similar distance to their sun as our planet has to ours. This means that the surface of these planets often mimics the atmospheric conditions on Earth. Another advantage exoplanets have is that they are in the habitable zone. This means they are not as close to a sun to be a planet of molten rock like Mercury, or far enough to be continuously covered by frost. This also means they contain a certain amount of water and a proper atmosphere. And we can all agree that these two requirements are vital to the creation of life. At least when it comes to life as we know it.
Recently the trend has changed, and scientists switched their focus to red dwarfs. These stars might be dimmer than sun-like ones, but they are more common in our galaxy. Red dwarfs are also a lot older than those stars, and this means that the planets around them had much more time to evolve a microbe or any other kind of life-form. One issue here is that most of those planets are tidally locked. This means that one of their sides is stuck in perpetual daylight, while the other is stuck in constant darkness. But when looking for extraterrestrial life, you cannot be picky.
So far scientists have determined that LHS 114ob is at least five billion years old. It is also located in the middle of the habitable zone of the red dwarf star. It is closer to its sun, but the red dwarf is a fair bit smaller than our star which means it gives off less light.
Scientists also believe that this planet is an ideal candidate for the James Webb Space Telescope mission. Additionally, the scientists hope they might be able to examine light as it passes through the planet’s atmosphere and analyze its composition. The Hubble has already provided ample information about the planet, but the scientists are hoping to gain more insight by using the new telescope.
There is still a long way to go to see whether the planet can support life. Even if all the necessary ingredients are there that might still not be enough. The fact is that scientists are probably going to find a habitable planet or moon much closer and much sooner.
Alexandra grew up dreaming of being a great science explorer. She always wanted to travel the world and explore some of the greatest science mysteries of the times. After high school, she studied chemistry in college and spent most of her summers working on research projects alongside her professors. It was there that Alexandra got clarity about what she wanted to do in the future. She now works full time in science research at a teaching university and is planning to go to medical school in a few years. She likes to stay up-to-date with the latest discoveries in science and share her love for science through her writing.